February Madness

March Madness In February at the Kohl Center

It started with the Michigan-Ohio State overtime thriller on Tuesday, a well played contest that delivered a memorable finish, with the referees swallowing their whistles late as the Wolverines escaped with a win at home against the pesky Buckeyes.

It continued with Wisconsin’s 2 overtime nail biter against Iowa Wednesday night, the Badgers surviving with a gritty, 74-70 victory. Traevon Jackson bounced a three pointer in that saved Wisky in regulation and then Ryan Evans inexplicbly iced it with two free throws in the second OT.

Thursday night Illinois put together an improbable comeback late in Champaign and knocked off #1 Indiana, 74-72, when the Hoosiers forgot to play defense, especially for the last 0.9 seconds of the game.

None of those great games could match the drama delivered Saturday in Madison, however, when number 3 Michigan came to town, with Hardaway, Robinson, Burke and company. A modest 2 1/2 point favorite at tip-off, the Wolverines were clearly a level above Wisconsin in the talent category as the teams lined up for an 11am tip-off.

Wisconsin led by as many as nine points early, 23-14, but the visitors climbed back in it effortlessly and headed to their locker room with a 29-28 halftime lead. They game see-sawed back and forth in the second half, with Michigan establishing control, but never able to put away Wisconsin. The Wolverines had several opportunities to extend their lead to six or eight points several times, but missed layups and some clutch three pointers kept Wisconsin in the game, despite some uncharacteritic sloppy ball handling by the Badgers.

The final 57 seconds were about as good as it gets in college basketball. I have been at the Kohl Center for some big moments; the Devin Harris free throws to clinch the title against Illinois, the win over Duke, and the upset of number one Ohio State, but Saturday’s finish blew those all away.

After Jared Bergeron brought the packed house down with a rim-rattling monster dunk and an old fashioned three point play to tie it at 57, the game surely seemed headed for OT. Wisky had fouls to give, and it seemed improbable that they would let Michigan get a shot off with any consequence. That’s when Hardaway flushed a stunning three pointer with Brusewitz draped all over him with 2.4 seconds remaining, giving Michigan a seemingly insurmountable cushion with Wisky having to go the full length of the court to get a shot off.

However, when the Wolverines decided not to guard the inbound player, Brusewitz, they gave the Badgers an opportunity for a miracle. Sitting nearly five rows from the top of the Kohl Center at the opposite end of the court, you could still see the play develop perfectly. My initial thought was Dekker would get a chance to repeat his State tournament heroics from a year ago, but instead it was Ben Brust, cruising right to left in front of us, catching a perfectly thrown pass by Brusewitz (with no defender to obscure its path), and letting fly a perfectly aimed 40 footer just inside half court, over the fingertips of an outstretched 6’5″ defender. You could tell the ball had a chance when he let it go, but when it swished through the net, you still couldn’t believe the shot had been made. It beat the buzzer, forcing overtime amidst all the madness.

Wisconsin was able to collect it’s composure and Brust delivered yet another haymaker three pointer late in overtime to lift the Badgers to the victory, 65-62. They now are 8-3, in the Big Ten, 17-7 overall, and once again making believers out of the doubters, like me, that maybe Bo Ryan was finally losing his touch in a talent filled conference such as this years Big Ten.  Nope.  There they are, actually in position to win the BIg Ten title, much less continue their ”no worse than fourth” streak under Ryan.

For all the hoopla surrounding March Madness, it would be hard not to look back at this week in Big Ten basketball and find more drama than it delivered over these four games. Add to that mix the 5 overtime Notre Dame-Louisville thriller in South Bend later Saturday, and it’s safe to say March Madness is indeed already upon us. 

For Wisconsin fans, and all basketball fans, it’s March Madness in February, Brust in time.

And For What

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