Milwaukee – There is nothing under-the-radar about these two teams.
In fact, when Wisconsin and Michigan took the Bradley Center court at separate times Thursday, the accolades already ran deep. Both are No. 2 seeds in this year’s NCAA tournament. Both have long, banner-heavy histories and tradition.
But as both get started in yet another postseason, the two find themselves sharing a certain drought.
The programs each boast a coach that is considered among the nation’s best.
They are also probably the two best active coaches still waiting for their first championship.
John Beilein came to Michigan eight years ago from West Virginia and including this season, Beilein has twice directed Michigan to at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. He’s come pretty darn close to cutting down a more meaningful net as well. Last year, the New York native — who was named league Coach of the Year by the media this season — brought his team all the way to the title game before the Wolverines fell to Rick Pitino and Louisville, 82-76.
Bo Ryan has taken Wisconsin to the Big Dance each of the 13 years he’s headed the Badgers, and he’s been league Coach of the Year three of those seasons. The fact that he hasn’t advanced past the Elite Eight any of those years almost defies logic for a coach that has had so much regular-season success.
Still, plenty to keep the arenas packed and the fan bases smiling in both cases. Both schools dominated the incredibly balanced Big Ten this season, and if anything exceeded expectations — a tough task at schools with such perpetually lofty anticipations.
“Just the way he prepares for everything and gets his players ready for games — I don’t see it with other teams,” Frank Kaminsky said of Ryan. “He has us so ready and knows everything about the game. Hopefully we can get one for him this year.”
There is no disputing that Beilein and Ryan have their programs in tip-top shape. But in one of the most high-spending, bottom-line driven industries, nothing matters more than the hardware that comes in April. And there, both have come up empty.
At least so far.
Both teams took care of business in the round of 64 on Thursday against opponents that never seemed like very real threats on paper.
This is the part that’s supposed to be easy.
Wisconsin dispensed American without problem after completely dominating the second half. The Badgers looked vulnerable at the start of its first-round matchup, sitting in a 20-20 tie with the Eagles just over four minutes before halftime, but once the Badgers — who will get hot-streaking Oregon on Saturday, figured out the Eagle’s Princeton offense — it was over. Wisconsin held American to just three field goals in a brutal second half, toppling their 15-seed punching bag, 75-35.
In the West, one of the bracket’s weaker regionals, the Badgers will get plenty of opportunities to make this year The Year.
Michigan is in a different boat.
The Wolverines, who failed to reach 60 for just the third time this season, overcame a sluggish and sometimes sloppy offensive performance to down Wofford, 57-40. But their path gets a lot rockier moving forward in the stacked Midwest.
Next, the Wolverines, get either 7-seed Texas and 10-seed Arizona State (who completed their game after this edition of the Star Tribune went to press), squads with two of the top-30 defenses in the nation. Both would target Michigan’s perimeter-heavy attack, and the Wolverines would likely have to play better than they did on Thursday to advance.
To get to the championship, Michigan would also likely have to go through Wichita State or Louisville, a trendy pick for the April 7th winner, and the crusher of last year’s Wolverine dreams.
“We love to have another opportunity [at a championship] and this is the first step,” Beilein said. “But we got a lot of obstacles to jump through to get there again.”