There is nothing that can be said to Wisconsin fans right now that would make their team’s heartbreaking Final Four loss to Kentucky any easier to swallow.
Still, it’s worth keeping your chins up, Badgers, because next season should be a great one and may even include a Big Ten championship run and return trip to the Final Four. Before we start trying to cheer up cheeseheads everywhere, though, it’s worth at least reliving the game-winning shot from Aaron Harrison.
Bleacher Report captured the moment:
Harrison hit the game-winner against Michigan in the Elite Eight and also drilled the most important shot of the game against Louisville in the Sweet 16. For as much criticism as the Harrison brothers received for much of the season when Kentucky was struggling, Aaron Harrison has been an absolute hero throughout the entire tournament.
Misery loves company, so at least the Badgers can console with the Wolverines and Cardinals in their Kentucky-induced sorrows.
There will be a next season, though, and Wisconsin should be on the short list of Final Four contenders.
Ben Brust was the only senior on the roster who received significant minutes, and while he will be missed, the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig will likely all be back in Madison. That’s a lot of talent that seemed to make significant strides during the NCAA tournament.
In fact, Kaminsky, Dekker and Jackson all averaged double-figure points, Hayes and Gasser were timely contributors on the boards and in the scoring department throughout the year, and Koenig scored 11 points and more than held his own against Kentucky during the Final Four game.
You would be hard-pressed to find a team across the entire country that will bring back such a talented core of players after NBA draft decisions and graduations are all in the past. The fact that Bo Ryan’s squad went through an entire run to the Final Four in the game’s most pressure-packed month should only boost its confidence heading into next season.
Who wins the Big Ten next year?
This group of Badgers was also tested by Ryan, which will pay off going forward. He even said so himself in his postgame press conference after the Elite Eight:
“I was a lot tougher on this group than I was on last year’s group. I just wasn’t going to accept them not understanding that they could be pretty good.”
What’s more, that core could get some help in the form of incoming freshman Ethan Happ.
The Illinois native is a 3-star prospect, per 247Sports, who can handle the basketball and contribute on the glass. Happ is also an impressive passer who has a jump shot that extends out to the three-point line. His length and athleticism help him dart into passing lanes and influence opposing shots on the defensive end as well.
With Happ and the tournament-tested core group returning, the Badgers will compete with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, among others, for a Big Ten title.
The Spartans lose a ton of talent and may even lose more if Gary Harris goes pro; the Buckeyes lose the majority of their scoring but will bring in a loaded recruiting class; and the Wolverines could lose Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.
Clearly, recruits will play a major factor in how next season unfolds (just ask Kentucky how that works), but Wisconsin is bringing back more talent than arguably anyone else in the Big Ten. That may not make Ryan and company feel any better right now, but it will when November rolls around.
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