A classic championship game between Kansas and Memphis brought the 2007-08 season to a close in proper fashion last night. The Jayhawks' 75-68 win came in the seventh overtime game in NCAA championship game history. [box score]
When you look back at this tournament a few years from now, Wisconsin's exit will not appear as poor as it seemed at the time. When Davidson hung with the eventual national champion until the final shot, the whole Midwest Region got a boost. If you can't win, you hope the team that beats you was the best in the country. In UW's case, this was close enough. From one angle, you could make an argument--albeit a shaky one--that Wisconsin lost to the second-best team in the tournament this year.
In days leading up to the title game, I started thinking back to a recent New York Times piece on the composition of Wisconsin's roster (thanks to Jon Linder for pointing it out). The map got me thinking both about the direction UW's program is headed and also about what it takes to build a truly elite, NCAA Championship-level squad these days.
Wisconsin has concentrated traditionally on snagging the best players from the state and filling in needed pieces from its midwestern neighbors. Bo Ryan has placed a premium on finding players who will best fit his swing offense and embrace the team concept. It's easy to fill a roster with that kind of players when your legendary head coach has inspired half of the high school coaches in the state to run his system.
I have constructed some player origin maps to show how this type of roster-building strategy appears spatially. Almost every program is going to fill extra roster spots with walk-ons from around the state, so I concentrated on mapping the scholarship athletes. Though we have been able to cherry-pick some talent from Minnesota lately, the 2007-08 roster was still heavily local:
Kansas and Memphis are pulling players from? All over. Compare these maps and apparent strategies with Wisconsin's more regional map:
The question is, will Bo Ryan change his recruiting. Does he agree with the pessimists that decry a lack of athleticism on his team and feel the need to look outside Wisconsin's borders to find it? More likely is that (1)the recent classes of high school seniors in Wisconsin have been less talented than usual and (2)the Badgers continue to raise their profile nationally in the minds of prep hoop stars.
This fall, five new freshmen will join the Badgers, none of which will be from Wisconsin. The departing senior class this spring consists of four in-state contributors (3 scholarship, 1 walk-on). In just one year, Wisconsin has added three new states to it's recruiting footprint* to up the total to eight. As I mentioned before, this is probably more of a drastic blip than an official trend. If the team keeps winning 30 games a year, though, the opportunities to pick and choose become even greater and more frequent.
*This map assumes 2008 recruit Ryan Evans will occupy Kevin Gullikson's 2008-09 scholarship.
My picks: 37/63 (58.7%) Round 5 (& 6): 0-3