CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 30:  James Michael McAdoo #43 of the North Carolina Tar Heels rebounds a miss by Jordan Taylor #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers during play at the Dean Smith Center on November 30, 2011 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 60-57.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Wisconsin has opportunity to become new-age blue-blood against UNC

Wisconsin has won one national championship, but very few fans who were around in 1941 are around to remember it happening. Since that point, the Badgers basketball legacy is one sad story until you reach the mid-1990’s.

For those in the new generation, Wisconsin basketball is synonymous with conference supremacy and NCAA tournament appearances on an annual basis. Yet, the Badgers are still fighting for respect nationally on a seemingly annual basis.

A Final Four appearance and near-national championship game run started to make the national audience take notice of Bo Ryan’s crew. However, there’s still plenty of work to be done for the Badgers to join a select group of programs who are annually looked at as potentially elite in the college basketball world.

North Carolina on the other hand, their one of the constants in college basketball. They’ve won five national titles, two of which have come under current head coach Roy Williams.

Thursday’s matchup isn’t just a chance for Wisconsin to continue its hopeful return trip to the Final Four, but it’s also an opportunity to punctuate its own place at the top of the college basketball mountain.

It’s also a chance to do what should’ve been done earlier this season — take on the Tar Heels in tournament play.

The two were involved in the Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving Day weekend and many believed UW and UNC were destined to meet in the championship game. Wisconsin fulfilled its end of the bargain, but the Tar Heels were upended in the first round and the dream matchup never happened.

On Thursday it will, and the irony isn’t lost on the players or coaches for Wisconsin either.

“It’s kind of ironic,” UW assistant coach Gary Close said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “They’re good. I was surprised they didn’t play better in the Bahamas, but early in the year crazy things can happen.

“They’re talented and well-coached. It’s North Carolina, so as a player and a coach growing up, you wanted a chance to play them. And it’s the Sweet 16.”

Getting a first victory against a traditional power program in the high profile atmosphere of the Sweet 16 would be helpful. Doing so in a completely neutral venue like the Staples Center in Los Angeles, well that would give a win (on either side) a greater level of legitimacy.

Wisconsin also has never beaten North Carolina, standing at 0-2 against the Tar Heels. The last meeting between the two was in Chapel Hill in 2011, an affair that the Badgers lost 60-57.

Playing the way the Badgers did in Omaha isn’t likely to cut it against a team who has played 19 games against NCAA tournament teams. There’s little doubt that what the Badgers put out in Omaha was far from their best work, and they still made it out of the first weekend.

Those facts aren’t lost on the players either, as senior guard Josh Gasser pointed out.

“We know we can play better,” Gasser said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “And really we’re going to have to play better to beat the teams coming up.”

If Wisconsin does end up playing better basketball and getting out of the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for yet another year, look for the Badger to have elevated this program to a level where it is has never been before.

Could that be the lasting legacy of the Bo Ryan era? Taking UW to a point where it reloads, not rebuilds on an annual basis?

A win over North Carolina certainly puts Wisconsin on a very different level historically and currently.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, as well as Publisher of Big Ten site