Sports commentators keep using the word "improbable" when talking about the Wisconsin men's basketball team. The Badgers were an improbable fourth seed in the Big Ten tournament and made an improbable run to the finals thanks to the leadership of Bo Ryan, the conference's improbable coach of the year.
But it's getting harder to apply the improbable tag to the Badgers, particularly when we're constantly reminded that Friday's match-up with Ole Miss represents the program's 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance and that Ryan's teams have never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten. Aren't the facts getting in the way of all this talk about the underdog overcoming odds? The Badgers are good. Every year. As Matt Lepay would say, book it.
Are these accomplishments easy? Ask Kentucky coach John Calipari, who won the national title a year ago but didn't even make the tournament field this year. Should we take them for granted? Ask fans of Northwestern, which has never played in an NCAA tournament.
But Badgers fans have permission not just to hope, but to expect that their team will compete for the conference championship each year and advance deep into the tournament. It's also okay to wonder how well Bo might do with a few blue-chip recruits working alongside his usual band of overachievers.
Choosing Wisconsin to knock off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 has become a fashionable pick among national hoop heads this week. Pulling that off would be thrilling, inspirational and a welcome injection of fun in this elongated winter. But with the record of excellence accumulated by Ryan's program over the last decade, it shouldn't be considered improbable.