The Badgers had just advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2008 NCAA tournament bracket, and had withstood a couple of individual scoring barrages to make it there. Cal State Fullerton's Josh Akognon (31 points, 8 rebounds) and Kansas State's Michael Beasley (23 points, 13 rebounds) dominated Wisconsin, but their teammates were limited – nay, completely shut down – by UW's top-ranked defense, and thus the Badgers moved on to Detroit.
The method seemed to be working … keep down the opponent's star as much as possible (you know, don't let him drop 40) and then take out his supporting cast, and victory is imminent.
But in the Sweet 16, against a little-known opponent who seemed ripe for Wisconsin's picking based on its team structure (get one guy the ball and watch him work), the Badgers were unceremoniously sent home. A cute little guy named Stephen Curry stomped all over the Badgers during his two-week run to everlasting fame and March Madness glory, pouring in 33 points as Davidson stunned UW.
Afterward, nobody in Wisconsin's locker room was more upset than the man responsible for guarding Curry; the man who spent most of his evening chasing Curry around and watching him drain three after three.
Michael Flowers self-assumed an unfairly large amount of blame for the loss – after all, forward Marcus Landry never really showed up and guard Trevon Hughes played just 11 minutes with a, well, questionable injury – and talked about living with this loss for the rest of his life.
Hopefully, Flowers is over it. But the Badgers sure aren't over the loss of Flowers.
Wisconsin's defense was horrendous during that devastating losing streak in January, giving up at least 64 points in each of those six losses. For comparison, in 21 Big Ten games last season, the Badgers gave up 64 or more just twice (in back-to-back games, interestingly; a loss at Purdue and the Brian-Butch-banker to win it at Indiana).
This had many of us reporters who cover the Badgers on a regular basis engaging in heated debates over what was wrong with coach Bo Ryan's defense. An improved Big Ten Conference, weaker help-side defense, an unwillingness to adapt to changing offenses and other potential culprits were discussed.
But each of those arguments were closed with three words; No. Michael. Flowers.
Flowers had the heart of a lion, and was more than an adequate offensive player. Defensively, he made everyone around him better, but his greatest contribution was his individual defense; point to the opponent's best player, and Flowers will dutifully do everything in his power to contain him.
Look what's happened, without that luxury this season.
Here's a quick list for you; a list of seven players and their schools, along with two numbers in parentheses.
These seven players have something in common. They're all guards who played against Wisconsin at some point this season, and all would have been guarded by Flowers if he were here.
You're probably wondering about those two numbers. The first number is how many points that player scored on Wisconsin earlier this season. The second number is his points-per-game average. In all seven cases, the first number is at least six points higher than the second; in other words, they all "went off" on the Badgers, if you will.
I'll crunch the math so you don't have to fish for that calculator. These seven guards averaged 24.7 points a game against the Flowers-less Badgers. Their combined season averages? 14.4 points a clip.
So there you have it; scoring-friendly guards are over ten points per game better when they play Wisconsin. Oh, and you may have noticed that the Badgers are 1-6 in those games.
Think Wisconsin coulda been one or two – or six – wins better with Mike Flowers on the floor?
If you need any other evidence of Flowers' presence, consider a completely random conversation on ESPN's Tuesday night telecast of Penn State-Ohio State. Commentators Brent Musberger and Steve Lavin – who both have done their fair share of Big Ten games – were discussing Big Ten basketball players who could make it in the NFL, since Nittany Lion forward Jamelle Cornley is potentially considering a football career as a tight end.
Anyway, Flowers' name comes up, and Lavin recalls how Musberger pegged Flowers as "someone who might be a pretty good defensive back." (What a great comparison, considering the aforementioned cornerback metaphor.)
To that, Musberger said, "Boy, do the Badgers ever miss his presence as a defender. They could really use him this year in that defense."
The guy's been gone for a season, the Badgers are not even playing on this night … and Musberger still remembers Flowers?
Gee, the guy must've been pretty memorable. And extremely important to a team that sorely wishes it still had No. 22 out there.