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Wisconsin Basketball: What's Next for Badgers After 2014 Final Four Loss?

Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger during the first half in a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Arizona, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong
Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2014

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.

Carlos Osorio

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.

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05: Traevon Jackson #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers misses a shot at the buzzer against the Kentucky Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. The Kentucky Wildcats defeate
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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.

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05:  Sam Dekker #15 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after losing to the Kentucky Wildcats 74-73 in the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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.

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.”

Whats 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. 

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05:  Head coach Bo Ryan of the Wisconsin Badgers motions to his players during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal against the Kentucky Wildcats at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Imag
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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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