To the fans of the University of Wisconsin Men’s basketball program:
Coach Gard, Coach Moore, Coach Krabbenhoft, Coach Oliver, and all Badger fans:
It has been almost year removed from an underdog, gritty run in the NCAA Tournament in 2017. As an 8 seed the badgers scrapped for a win against Virginia Tech, upended top seeded Villanova with a Koenig fading three and a beautiful post move from Nigel Hayes, and finally a tough, sour loss to four seed Florida in overtime. That is past us though and now we must look toward the future. We no longer have the names that have carried the Badgers to consistent postseason success. The names that ring greatness to Wisconsin fans and bring nostalgia upon being spoken.
Today we sit in a state of disbelief, in shock, and in complete disorientation. For the first time this decade (in 20 years) Wisconsin will not make the NCAA Tournament. In that span the Badgers have appeared in 10 Sweet Sixteens, 4 Elite Eights, 3 Final Four’s, and 1 National Championship. That is in the past though and now it is time to address the present. Today we reflect on a season that brings Wisconsin their first losing record since the 1997-1998 season. Many in Madison knew it would be a down year for the program, but few to none thought that the team would struggle this mightily.
While this season did not go as many in Madison expected, there were highlights throughout the season as the team grew and matured. Toward the end of the season, the Badgers showed their toughness and their new found ability to close out games. The Badgers finished the season winning four of six games and losing only to second ranked Michigan State. During the final six games we saw many improvements and exciting strides made by the team. It started with a thrilling upset over number 6 Purdue. Next the Badgers faced Minnesota at the Kohl Center and trailed almost the entire second half only to grind their way back into the game multiple times and force overtime. In overtime they again showed the ability to close out games as they dominated their way to a ten point victory. In the following game Wisconsin showed uncanny efficiency shooting 53% from the field and 45% from three. We saw Khalil Iverson have his best game as a Badger showing aggressive penetration and an ability to get to the rim. Wisconsin only trailed for just under two minutes the entire game and the game never felt like they were going to lose. They returned home to the Kohl Center and had what was bound to be a loss to Michigan State ahead. While the Badgers fell 68-63 and the Spartans secured the Big Ten Regular Season Championship, Wisconsin showed resilience and toughness that we hadn’t seen much of all season.
Wisconsin went into the Big Ten Tournament as the ninth seed with a matchup against eighth seeded Maryland. The Badgers played a hard fought back and forth game and were able to pull out a win against a Maryland team who showed resilience all game. Their final game of the season was their next against Michigan State, but this game proved something that Badger fans had been looking for all season: improvement. Wisconsin proved that the previous game under a week earlier at the Kohl Center was no fluke and rather that this team had improved and was able to now play to the level of the Big Ten elites.
Despite that, Wisconsin fans still see this season as a disappointment. They see the season as a failure of the system that has worked for the past twenty years. The Badgers basketball program has consistently brought in guys as freshman, no matter the talent level, and been able to develop them into key players. That failed to happen over the past two seasons which lead to the season the Badgers had this year. Injuries plagued Wisconsin, but that has never been an excuse in the past and shouldn’t be accepted this year either. It is common knowledge around the program that next season must return to the norm of the past twenty years or changes will be coming.
The Badgers have a bright future ahead of them though. An incoming class that features Tai Strickland, son of NBA veteran Rod Strickland, walk on Joe Hedstrom, and Taylor Currie. The class doesn’t feature any standout names, but a quality class nonetheless. The Badgers also return all of their players minus the departures of Matt Ferris and Aaron Moesch. The future looks bright in Madison, but work will have to be done to return to the NCAA tournament.