After the disappointing finish to what can only be described as an overachieving season, I decided to write an ode to the underrated Wisconsin Badgers. Hopefully this will help others like me who are looking to remember the true definition of team work.
Wisconsin didn’t start out with the team you watched them finish the season with. Brian ‘the Polar Bear’ Butch had a rocky start to the season from the outside.
Marcus Landry seemed to get better as the season went on. He started very still and almost afraid to take it strong, but by the end, he was the power man taking it strong whenever he could.
Michael Flowers was always the defensive thriller, but he was more afraid of his shot. Towards the end of the season and into the tournament, he began to trust his great shot and continued to make contributions to the team on both sides of the floor.
Joe Krabbenhoft and Greg Stiemsma both became more and more comfortable taking the ball outside and being able to stroke their shots, as well as pounding the ball inside.
Jason Bohannon, the amazing three point threat, showed us that he can take the ball inside as well as drain the big shot. In the final game against Davidson, Bohannon actually surprised me on a few plays with his versatility, showing me there is a bright future.
Finally, there is quite possibly the most improved player on the Badgers, Trevon Hughes. Trevon, in my eyes, was a young, inexperienced, skilled, overexcited and quick point guard. His ball handling skills are amazing, but he was turnover prone in the past.
I credit his maturation in large to coach William ‘Bo’ Ryan. Trevon, by the end of the season, was the lead ball handler and game pace controller. He allowed Wisconsin to play their slow, methodical and winning style of play all year. I, unfortunately, believe that Wisconsin’s exit from the tournament was due to Trevon’s absence in the game.
The beginning of the Badger’s season was sprinkled with the destruction of weak, inadequate teams. While these games do little to nothing for the Badgers, they do a lot for the opposing teams, so my props for scheduling these games to help out these other basketball programs.
The first real game of the season for the Badgers came against a less then average Duke team. Duke massacred Wisconsin 82 to 58 in a game in which Wisconsin strayed from their game plan and paid dearly for it.
This game, I believe, began the team building. When a team gets hurt that bad, they can either fall apart or bond together, and happily for us Wisconsin fans, it was the latter. A loss at home a week and a half later to in-state rival Marquette ended the Badgers' home winning streak, and the Badger’s record was 0-2 against good teams.
From this point on, it was all good. The Badgers completed their in-state set of games by rebounding from the loss in a big way with a 22 point win over UW-Milwaukee and an 18 point win over UW-Green Bay. Next came a 10 point win over Valparaiso that helped lift team spirits as they traveled to Texas for the biggest game of their season so far.
Without a doubt one of the highlights of the season for the Badgers was surprising the Longhorns in Texas. Flowers hit a three pointer to put the Badgers up one with seconds left. The Longhorns did a quick inbound pass, which Flowers stole and threw up in the air to let the last few seconds tick off the clock and make the 67-66 win final.
The start of Big 10 Conference play began with fairly impressive double digit, but unimportant, wins over Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Penn State and Northwestern. Wisconsin stumbled against Michigan in their second meeting, but pulled out the win 64 to 61.
They unfortunately continued their mediocrity against Purdue and lost another close game 56 to 60. The rebound after that game was unexpected and tremendous.
Wisconsin had Indiana at home and absolutely dominated them the entire game. Flowers, who was sick with the flu, managed to contain the freshman Eric Gordon to just 16 points, and the Badgers won 62 to 49.
Next, Wisconsin strung together back to back wins on the road over Minnesota and Iowa to move their season to a 19-3 overall record. Purdue came into Wisconsin hot as any team in the NCAA by climbing into the 24th spot in the AP poll. Wisconsin had only lost one game to a Big 10 team in Bo Ryan’s coaching career.
Purdue handed the Badgers their second. The Boilermakers completely dominated Wisconsin the entire game, including a 10 point lead at half they would not relinquish. A ray of sunshine in the dark depths of this game was Wisconsin’s free throw shooting, 30 out of 33.
Again Wisconsin rebounded with a win, this time at Indiana. The last minute and a half was back and forth as much as any game could possibly be. The lead changed seven different times.
Indiana played an amazing game and was up one with seconds left. Landry and Butch bobbled the handoff on the perimeter, and Butch hit a last second three to put the Badgers up for good.
Wisconsin rumbled through the rest of the Big 10 season by winning the Big 10 outright. This was the third first place finish the Badgers have enjoyed since Bo Ryan began coaching the team.
The Big 10 Tournament was basically one major game. Thanks to Minnesota and Illinois knocking off Purdue and Indiana, Wisconsin had to play Illinois for the Big 10 tournament title.
However, to get there they had to get through Michigan State. Michigan State outplayed the Badgers, but only held a two point lead in the first half of play. Early in the second half, Michigan State pulled way ahead, but Wisconsin, lead by defense and free throw shooting, mounted a furious comeback.
Not traditionally a come from behind team, Wisconsin stunned Michigan State by hitting 26 free throws and getting four different Michigan State players out of the game with five fouls. With foul trouble plaguing Michigan State, Wisconsin was able to pound the ball down low and win the game 65-63.
Wisconsin entered the big dance as a three seed in the Midwest. In the first round, Wisconsin ran over Cal State Fullerton. Cal State was undersized down low, and Wisconsin took advantage of that to overcome their weak three point shooting.
In the second round, Wisconsin had to play Michael Beasley and the Kansas State Wildcats. With Beasley projected as the number one overall draft pick for the NBA, this would be no easy defensive task.
Wisconsin not only kept up with the scoring of Kansas State, but enjoyed a comfortable six point lead at half. In the second half, the Badgers' defense took over the game, limiting Beasley to just six points and holding the Kansas State Wildcats to a season low 55 points.
Wisconsin, lead by Trevon Hughes' game high 25 points, shot lights out from the three point line going 9 for 22 in the 17 point victory. Wisconsin lost to the sharp shooting Davidson, who managed to pick apart Wisconsin’s defense, in the Sweet 16.
It was a great season with many hopes for another great season next year. Bo Ryan shows why he’s the greatest coach in the NCAA by leading an under-talented team to a Big 10 Championship, a Big 10 Tournament Championship and a Sweet 16 appearance.
Here’s to a hopeful final four appearance and maybe eventually a national championship under Bo Ryan. Thank you for your hard work and teamwork throughout this tremendous season. It was a terrific privilege to watch you grow and mature. Go Wisconsin Badgers!