Call it the Final Five: the hours it took for Wisconsin’s agonizing one-point loss to Syracuse, followed by Marquette’s cold-shooting exit against Florida. A sudden ending just two steps short of the Final Four always stirs the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” blues, but as the Observers know only too well, life’s too short for much of that.
Frank: As it turned out, if they’d made the Elite Eight the Badgers and Golden Eagles each would have faced a conference rival...
Artie: And a rival they’d gone 1-1 with this season.
Frank: Now it’s Ohio State and Louisville that are in the Final Four, which adds to the “what mighta been” thinking.
Artie: But let’s not forget that UW and MU both had outstanding seasons, ain’a?
Frank: In the preseason polls the Badgers were ranked in the mid-teens and the Eagles in the low-20s, and both came through. MU probably overachieved to finish second in the Big East regular season and UW was just a game behind the Big Ten tri-champions.
Artie: And both teams repeated in the Sweet Sixteen, the Badgers for the first time in their history. Bo Ryan is catching some heat, as in “can’t win the big one” griping, but what’s so wrong with going to the Big Dance 11 straight times? Think the fans of Iowa and Minnesota and even Indiana would have liked that consistency over the last decade?
Frank: You’re certainly old enough to appreciate it.
Artie: Hell yes! I’ve been following UW hoops since the ’60s, and for decades they were Big Ten bottom-feeders. Just making the NCAA under Dick Bennett in the ’90s seemed like science fiction.
Frank: Well, we might as well chime in on the Badgers’ final play, or lack of it, against Syracuse.
Artie: It’s hard to get over. But something far more important to the outcome happened just eight minutes into the game, when Jared Berggren got whistled for his second foul on an absolutely clean block.
Frank: CBS never showed a replay, but Bill Raftery called it “all basketball” and it looked that way when I ran it back on my DVR.
Artie: Bo kept Berggren out for the rest of the half. He already had 10 points and he was one of the large guys who could play the middle against the Syracuse zone. I think it was a real game-changer.
Frank: Of course Ryan could have brought him back in the half, but he didn’t want to risk foul No. 3. But now we come to another time Berggren was on the bench—the final 15 seconds.
Artie: It’s tough to criticize what happened. Yes, Bo had a timeout left and could have used it to get Berggren in and/or set up a final play. But he didn’t want to inbound the ball without the insurance of a timeout if there was pressure. And he was trying to get Berggren in, but there wasn’t time before the ref gave the ball to Josh Gasser.
Frank: I think Ryan may have been late with that move.
CBS showed him holding up a finger and telling his players they had one timeout left. Then as the possession began Berggren was just hustling to the scorer’s table.
Artie: He sure would have given Syracuse more to worry about.
Frank: As it was, the Orange did well to run two guys at Jordan Taylor, forcing him to stay above the key. There was a split-second when Mike Bruesewitz flashed to the free-throw line, but it would have been a tough pass for Taylor and Bruesewitz would have encountered a defender quickly.
Artie: Then Taylor got the ball to Rob Wilson...
Frank: Who might have had a pass to Gasser at the right baseline, but Wilson was under pressure too. The defender did well to jump up but not into Wilson, forcing him to pass back to Taylor.
Artie: And by that time Taylor’s shot had to be a really long one.
Frank: On my replays—with the luxury of slow-motion and freeze-frame technology—it seemed he might have had a good passing lane to Gasser, who would’ve had a more open shot. But hey, Taylor was the main man all season. I’m sure in his mind, and Ryan’s, the final shot belonged to him.
Artie: One more thing: If the Badgers had made a couple more foul shots...
Frank: They were only 7 for 12, with Syracuse 5 for 9.
Last year free-throw shooting was a huge part of the Badgers’ success. This year I thought UW was too dependent on three-point shooting. This time they were above 50% at 14 for 27, but they missed their last five attempts.
Artie: Well, it sure was exciting, and so efficient by both teams! Just six turnovers apiece.
Frank: In any one-point game there are a million things on both sides you can see as decisive. In MU’s 10-point loss to Florida, there really was one big thing. The Eagles picked a bad time to shoot a little over 30%.
Artie: Boy, when they’re cold, they look really bad. We hadn’t seen it much this season until that late game at Cincinnati and the Big East tournament loss to Louisville.
Frank: Sure, some of the shots were in and out, even halfway down. But in the second half, when MU had a chance to cut the deficit to six or four points, there were several shots taken way too quickly and with no rebounding support. The energy and intensity were there, as always, but this time they weren’t enough.
Glasses half-full? Much more than that.