Under Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin Badgers have never finished worse than fifth in the Big Ten, and lo and behold, critics picked the Badgers to finish outside of the top five in the conference following the losses of Jordan Taylor (graduation) and Josh Gasser (injury).
And yet here we are. With five games remaining, Wisconsin is tied for third place in the conference and sits two games out of first place. Thanks to a favorable remaining schedule, the Badgers shouldn't rule out winning the whole thing, although they would probably settle for finishing right where they currently stand.
No team in the country has played more games against ranked opponents than the Badgers (nine), and in those games, Wisconsin has compiled an impressive 5-4 record.
Based on the expectations for Wisconsin coming into the season and the way it has comparatively performed, there will be more passing grades than failing grades on this roster. Here is the breakdown and the final verdict for each player.
The senior forward leads the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game and blocks at nearly two a contest while remaining one of the premier defenders at the rim in Division I basketball.
While he has lost his touch from outside, Berggren's low-post offense is nearly automatic when he gets a one-on-one matchup. It's something the Badgers fail to exploit enough, but by drawing the attention of the defense, Berggren opens up other opportunities for his teammates on the perimeter.
Overall, his offensive skill set has improved since last season, and as one of the senior leaders, he has certainly led by example as well as with his fire on the court. Berggren isn't afraid to lay into one of his teammates if he is less than thrilled with their performance.
It would be nice to see Berggren improve his percentage from beyond the arc, but that's not where he's needed most on this team. His presence around the basket is what counts the most, and in that regard, Berggren has shined on both ends.
One of the three senior forwards on the Badgers this season, Ryan Evans appeared to have a high ceiling when he stepped on campus his freshman year.
Unfortunately, Evans' offensive game didn't develop to the point many Badger fans were hoping. He is shooting 39 percent from the field, but where Evans has really struggled is at the free-throw line where he's nearly shooting just as poorly (40.3 percent).
Evans has improved his jump shot as of late, and he is Wisconsin's leading rebounder at 7.8 a game. He is definitely on the floor for his defensive presence and taking on the opponent's biggest players even though Evans measures in at 6'6".
But Evans still has mental lapses and turns the ball over a bit too much. For how much he shoots, Evans should be averaging more than 10.6 points per game, and although his defense is superb, he needed to have a better season to close out his career at Wisconsin.
If there was one player who exemplified what Wisconsin basketball was all about, it's Bruiser.
Rounding out the senior forward trio, Mike Bruesewitz has overcome quite a lot this season, needing 50 stitches to close a laceration on his lower leg and battling back from his sixth concussion early in the season. You wouldn't know it though, because Bruesewitz has played with the same reckless abandon he always has, diving for loose balls and taking charges when the team needs them the most.
He's one of the most fearless players in the country, and while his numbers (6.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG) aren't flashy by any means, all anyone expects Bruiser to do is fly around and make hustle plays while knocking down the occasional three and playing lockdown defense.
Bruesewitz is a big reason why the Badgers have one of the most efficient defenses in the country, and he's the heart and soul of the Wisconsin Badgers. His offense isn't always there, but for everything else he brings, Bruesewitz passes with flying colors.
This shot alone probably earned Ben Brust a passing grade on the season.
But the junior guard deserves to be recognized for more than his 40-foot heave that sent Wisconsin's game against Michigan into overtime on Feb. 9. Entering the season, Brust had to imagine his minutes would take a noticeable jump following Josh Gasser's ACL injury, but he plays over three minutes per game than any other player on the roster.
That's asking a lot of a guy who has garnered a reputation as a three-point specialist, but Brust has really played well as of late and even brings down his share of rebounds, earning five double-doubles on the season.
Brust has really improved shooting with a hand in his face and has showed the ability to create his own shot as the season's progressed. For as much as he launches from behind the arc, a 39.3 percentage from three is pretty impressive.
Bo Ryan is putting a lot on the shoulders of his 6'1" guard, and Brust has delivered.
We all knew that sophomore guard Traevon Jackson was going to endure some growing pains this season when he was asked to assume a much larger role after Gasser's injury.
He had to adjust not only to the point guard position, but to a starting role as well. Jackson has without a doubt been frustrating to watch and nearly turns it over as often as he dishes an assist, but he has also come through in the clutch on multiple occasions.
Jackson isn't afraid to have the ball in his hands in these moments. He deserves some props for this, as well as some sympathy for having to go up against some of the premier point guards in the country throughout the Big Ten season.
Were expectations high for Jackson? No. But when he gets out of the way and facilitates the offense rather than forces shots, the Badgers are a much more dangerous team, and Jackson can't seem to help himself.
Overall, the Badgers will be better in the long run because of Jackson's extended experience this season, and it's very difficult to give Jackson a final ruling.
Is it fair to call Sam Dekker a freshman phenom?
When you're a freshman in Bo Ryan's system, the leash is typically quite short, but Dekker has slowly earned more and more slack as the season has grown older because of his ability to hit shots from just about anywhere on the floor.
As a freshman, Dekker is the most polished offensive player on the roster, shooting better than 42 percent from three and just over 47 percent overall from the field. He often comes off the bench early to relieve Evans and inject some life into the Wisconsin offense, and lately, he has been carrying the offense for extended periods of time.
There's no doubt that there is room for improvement on the defensive end, but there is no hesitation when Dekker decides to shoot. While Dekker was highly regarded out of high school, he has certainly met expectations considering his first-year status under Ryan.
Early in the season, Marshall was given some opportunities to start at point guard for the Badgers, but eventually, Jackson won the job, largely due to his seniority.
Marshall, like Dekker, is a freshman, and he will one day be an integral part of Wisconsin's success, but the leash has remained short for Marshall all season long. He knows that when he makes a mistake, he will be yanked, and that's just the way it is under Bo Ryan.
That being said, Marshall hasn't really played all that poorly this season. He's seen his minutes diminish lately, but the Badgers don't exactly miss a beat when he enters the game. Marshall takes better care of the ball than Jackson and can also knock down the three ball to give the offense a boost every now and then.
Coming into the season, Marshall probably wasn't even expected to play prior to Gasser's ACL injury. He was in the same class as Jackson, but the Badgers gave Marshall a redshirt last season for a reason—probably so he could contribute more down the road.
One thing the Badgers aren't short on is forwards, and that leaves sophomore Frank Kaminsky somewhat as the odd man out.
He plays rather limited minutes as a result of the surplus of forwards, even though Ryan chooses to roll with an eight-man rotation. An eye injury also slowed Kaminsky's development earlier in the season, forcing him to miss a few weeks of action, but as he showed in Wisconsin's victory over Illinois on Feb. 3, Kaminsky has the ability to break out.
In Champaign, Kaminsky played a season-high 23 minutes and scored 19 points with Berggren in foul trouble, showing he can step up when needed. Still, Ryan has more faith in his senior leaders, and that means Kaminsky's primary role is to spell the starting frontcourt for small periods of time.
He's shooting over 40 percent from three-point range and has stepped his game up from a year ago. It's hard to be disappointed in Kaminsky, other than the fact that he doesn't see nearly as much time as he deserves, but his time will come in Madison soon enough.