Old habits – and interests – die hard. Last stop had us in sunny Arizona on the campus of the University of Arizona and in Tucson. We got there via a connection with Hawaii and the Maui Invitational basketball tournament (U of A won it in 2014). Well, we’re sticking with the basketball theme (yet again) and as this goes to press, we’re in the final week of the NCAA tournament, aka March Madness. As has been their calling card since Lute Olson established a dominant program, the Wildcats had yet another good run in the tourney. Alas, not long enough for ‘Cats fans, as it ended in the Elite 8 against the Badgers of Wisconsin – the same way it did last year for the desert dwellers.
Much as Lute Olson is synonymous with U of A basketball, so too is the Badgers’ coach, Bo Ryan. Having been at the helm of the ship since 2001, the Badgers have been one of the most consistent programs in that time frame. He didn’t travel far for his new gig; only 75 minutes down the road, but what a find. Ryan won 4 national championships at the Division III level, and has repeatedly turned down offers from other schools. He is giving the AD, Barry Alvarez, the consistency and loyalty he expects, especially in the face of the recent head coaching issues with the university’s football program. After one Elite 8 and four Sweet 16 appearances, Ryan and the Badgers are in their second consecutive Final 4. The field is rounded out by fellow Big Ten power Michigan State, currently undefeated Kentucky and Duke, led by Coach K who is making his 12th Final 4 appearance in his tenure. For those of you who want to look into the future, I think it would be a safe bet to say next month’s top on the Small World tour will be on one of the other three campuses. Just a little foreshadowing.
In 1985, Richard Moll wrote a book about the “public ivies,” i.e. those public institutions that were on par with the education and research of the Northeastern collection of upper-crust schools. And while UW didn’t make the first eight, they received honorable mention (along with three other Big Ten schools!); and the Badgers are consistently acknowledged far and wide for the campus’ academic prowess. Forbes has the main campus listed as top 70 overall (remember, there are 3,500 4-year accredited colleges and universities in the States!), and some of their programs are Top 5. Their sociology program is arguably the best in the country.
Sometimes known as The City of Four Lakes, Madison is one of those beautiful college towns where there’s no surprise why high school seniors want to spend their defining years there. Nestled between Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa, the sprawling campus is captivating in every way possible. Running trails and bike paths snake through the capital city. State Street abuts campus and offers endless social venues such as campus staple bars and diverse food offerings. Performing arts and music festivals are the norm throughout the calendar year.
And being that UW is in the midst of the “heartland,” football obviously plays a big role during the fall. I would argue that the best season in any section of the country is fall in the Midwest, and when you have that Indian summer weather in September and October, college football just makes it that much better. Tailgating is the norm during football season, and it is the best in Big Ten country. Beer, brats and more beer, the Midwest coeds (and alums) know how to take advantage of the season. Every school has their traditions, and UW is no different. One of their many rituals is the playing of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” between the 3rd and 4th quarter of every home game by the marching band. The stadium is said to shake and rattle, and I imagine that is often the case when the Badgers have the lead. If UW caps off the season on a high note in men’s basketball, I imagine that song will be played a time or two.