Turning points can come from some really odd places in retrospect. After Sam Dekker went up for a relatively ill-advised alley-oop and got clocked in the face (no call) just before the end of the first half, he ran toward the bench holding his jaw, the Badgers gave up a quick bucket, and an apoplectic Bo Ryan picked up a technical foul. Red-hot Oregon led 49-35, but would get outscored 50-28 in the rest of the game in an 85-77 Badgers victory. A Wisconsin alum, I was in attendance — here are my thoughts:
1. The Milwaukee crowd was just electric. I’ve been scanning my brain for the last two days and I really can’t think of any others that I’ve been a part of that compared to it. The fans helped bring back to life a faltering team in a way that playoff crowds at Lambeau versus the Giants (2012) and 49ers (2014) were ill-equipped to do. Being included in something that was this collaborative and special really hammered home why we watch sports — which can seem alternately cruel and silly much of the time — in the first place.
2. I’ve had some fun with real-time disgruntled fans in the past. As such, I’m immensely relieved that my texts and inner dialogue at half-time weren’t tweets. I was warming up the coals on scathing Bo Ryan hot-takes. I entered Madison in the Fall of 2005. Since that time, Wisconsin has made the tournament every year, but never advanced even to the Elite Eight. They’ve been blown off the court in upsets by teams such as Davidson (though getting beat by Stephen Curry is less daggering in hindsight) and Cornell.
As friends have pointed out, it’s a little bit spoiled to be dissatisfied with Bo’s cumulative body of work. It’s much better than Indiana has done, to say nothing about Northwestern and Purdue. But is one Final Four per decade really too much to ask out of a program that is consistently in the top-25?
3. Those thoughts are on the back-burner for now. Bo’s technical, which seemed so irresponsibly impetuous at the time, did help rally the troops. He was sticking up for them in the face of grave injustice, and they responded by going on a complete tear. Up and down the roster, the Badgers caught fire. This team is truly capable of beating anybody when they play like that (and losing to anybody if they play like they did towards the end of the first half).
This was obviously a bit of a coup, and had nothing to do with connections or being able to afford them (these seats were running $350/ticket outside). After the Michigan-Texas game — which we also snuck into good seats for (but not nearly this good) by walking purposefully past the usher — my friend Peter asked Longhorns fans if they were leaving, and if we could have their stubs.
After much persistence — we weren’t the only ones with that strategy — he scored one. He flashed his ticket to the usher, I hastily said that I was with him so I wouldn’t need to show mine, and we grabbed a pair of seats. After a little bit of shuffling around as the crowd filled in, we were sitting next to each other and were unencumbered for the duration of the game. You should always be able to figure out a way into decent seats if you’re resourceful enough.
For future reference, my friends got their lower level tickets at face value by ordering them through the Texas athletics department. If you are attending an NCAA Tournament set — especially like this one where Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent Michigan, don’t have to travel very far — it’d be advisable to try out this sort of system.
Back to our seats. There’s no spectator experience in sports that provides a vantage point as good as being between the baskets in the front 10 rows. You get such a wonderful view of the size and gracefulness of these athletes. When you combine that with the especial fervor of this particular crowd, it’s well-worth leaving the house and missing the other games.
5. But c’mon, arena guys. You have to keep us better-informed. A corner scoreboard that is minutes late and occasional PA and jumbotron highlights aren’t gonna cut it, especially when mobile Internet just wasn’t working at all. During half-time of the Badgers game, they told us that Syracuse was in danger of being upset by Dayton in the final minute. Why on Earth could they not just show it to us live?
Cavernous arenas that are 2/3s empty litter the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament like cigarette butts outside a dorm. With the opportunity cost of four games at once in the comforts of a bar or our home, the live viewing experience needs to be more compelling (unless your favorite team is playing). Figure out a way to get Wi-Fi and outlets in the seats, and at the very least cut in to the final minute of other games when they are close and the one we’re at is on a break.
6. Shot by ESPN Milwaukee’s Mitch Nelles, here’s the Wisconsin faithful singing ‘Varsity’ after the win:
7. My adrenaline was pumping so high after the game that I traversed the streets of Milwaukee in jeans and a t-shirt in 30-degree weather. If I get sick later this week, I know who to blame.
8. By the time he’s a senior, Bronson Koenig is going to be the type of player that conference rivals (and maybe even national fans) hate. There’s almost no bigger compliment to give a freshman basketball player than that. It’s not just that he’s quick, adept at handling the ball, and can shoot. He’s got swag, and he’s only gonna get bigger and better.
9. No trip to Milwaukee is complete without a trip to Real Chili. They do that ish right.
10. Is it Thursday yet?
11. On Wisconsin!