Are Wisconsin Badgers the lightweights at this Final Four?


The Wisconsin Badgers are in the Final Four for the second straight year, have a school-record 34 victories and (possibly) counting and have perhaps the national player of the year in Frank Kaminsky.

Yet historically, when comparing legacies and histories, it can be argued the Badgers are the lightweight in the field that will play Saturday and next Monday night in Indianapolis.

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Wisconsin in its fourth Final Four and the Badgers own one national championship, way back in 1941.

They will be joined in Indianapolis by the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats, owners of eight national titles—most recently in 2012. It is Kentucky’s 17th Final Four appearance.

And there are the Duke Blue Devils, with their four national titles and 16 Final Fours—12 of them under coach Mike Krzyzewski, tied with John Wooden for the most all-time.

And then there is Michigan State, with two national titles and nine Final Fours, seven since 1999 under coach Tom Izzo.

So Wisconsin’s one title and four Final Fours does make it sort of the lightweight in the field.

Among the coaches, Krzyzewski is already in the Hall of Fame and is men’s college basketball’s winningest coach with 1,017 wins.

Kentucky’s John Calipari and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan are finalists for this year’s Hall of Fame voting, with the results to be announced Monday, before one of them will be coaching in the national championship game, either Calipari for the fourth time or Ryan for the first.

And Izzo’s Hall of Fame bona fides are solid, even if he has yet to be nominated.

Mar 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Sam Dekker (15) shoots against Arizona Wildcats guard Gabe York (1) during the second half in the finals of the west regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Three of the teams—Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin were top seeds. Michigan State was a No. 7 seed, but—again—with seven Final Four appearances in the last 16 seasons, the Spartans hardly qualify as Cinderella.

The main event on Saturday night will be the rematch of last year’s down-to-the-wire national semifinal between the Wildcats and Badgers.

Last year, Andrew Harrison’s jumper with 5.7 seconds left gave Kentucky the edge in a 74-73 win over Wisconsin.

But while Kentucky-Wisconsin is the main event, Izzo vs. Krzyzewski is one hell of an undercard in the first semifinal.

This will be the fourth meeting between the coaching giants in the NCAA tournament, the second in the Final Four.

Duke won two of those first three meetings, including a national semifinal in 1999. Michigan State, as a No. 5 seed, upset top-seeded Duke in a regional semifinal in 2005 and Duke knocked off Michigan State in a regional semifinal in 2013, coincidentally in Indianapolis.

Kentucky is chasing history. Already the first team in NCAA history to be 38-0, they are shooting for men’s college basketball’s first 40-0 campaign and to become the first unbeaten national champion since Bobby Knight’s Indiana squad 39 years ago, in 1976.

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  • The delicious irony for those of us in Big Ten country is that after a season of hearing the conference being bashed nationally—and honestly, rightfully so—for a mediocre season, it is that same Big Ten that is home to half of the Final Four.

    The SEC’s lone legitimate team is there and the ACC has Duke—neither its regular-season nor tournament champion—standing for the last weekend of the season.

    Notre Dame, the ACC tournament champion, nearly joined Duke, but after rocking Kentucky on its heels for 37 minutes, Irish coach Mike Brey thought the final three minutes would be a perfect time to switch away from the offense Kentucky hadn’t stopped all game long.

    Duke-Michigan State, Kentucky-Wisconsin—a pair of heavyweight semifinals to set up what will be a whale of a heavyweight final.

    Cinderella may be fun, but a Final Four like this is what a fan dreams of. And once the ball is tossed up for the opening tip, all that history and legacy is just so many words on a page.

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