Perhaps the most overlooked fact in American sports history is that the United States Men’s Hockey Team beat Finland to secure the gold medal in the 1980 winter olympics. This oversight is understandable considering their previous game, the Miracle on Ice versus the invincible Soviet team, is arguably the greatest moment in American sports history. Yet the Miracle on Ice would not hold the same significance today had Team USA lost to Finland. The same general principle applies to the Wisconsin Badgers after their victory over previously undefeated Kentucky.
The Kentucky Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament with a chance to be considered the best college basketball team of all-time. They have enough depth to field two top-10 teams, a historically great defense, and it would be hard to argue with a 40-0 record. By beating Kentucky the Badgers took down a juggernaut, and as an added bonus they avenged their last-second defeat to the Wildcats and Aaron Harrison in the 2014 semifinal.
The Badgers’ win over Kentucky has layer upon layer of goodness. It’s a game that will be celebrated and featured in NCAA Tournament commercials for decades to come; but at the risk of being the fun police, the game was only a semifinal. There is still one more juggernaut to take down before history can be made.
It is very difficult to advance to a championship game, let alone win a championship. The Wisconsin men’s basketball team last played for a title in 1941 and for all we know it could be another 74 years before they get back. It’s also not a stretch to say the Badgers may never have another team as good (or likable) as the 2014-2015 squad. This is an extraordinarily rare opportunity to do something great. As fun as this season has been, it would be be a shame to have “but if the only could have beaten Duke” be part of it’s story.
Speaking of Duke, the season-long coronation of Kentucky took deserved attention away from the Blue Devils. Simply put: at their best there may be no better team than Duke. Wisconsin fans saw this in December when the Blue Devils shot 30-46 from the field in an 80-70 victory at the Kohl Center. While beating Kentucky is the definition of impressive, by no means does it guarantee victory on Monday night.
This season has been an incredibly fun ride and the victory over Kentucky will always be cool. But there is still work left to be do. Beating Duke will turn the season from a fun ride into one the greatest seasons in Wisconsin sports history. The Blue Devils be their biggest challenge yet.