Depending on where you look, preseason polls for the 2014-15 season have Wisconsin somewhere around the top 4. That means expectations for Bo Ryan and company will be the highest that they've ever been. I mean, when you go to the Final Four and lose only one starter, you're in pretty good shape for the next season. That's why the pollsters have the Badgers alongside Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky.
For those three teams, this is no different. But for Wisconsin, this is uncharted territory. Never before have people viewed the Badgers as a legitimate favorite to win it all. Not just to finish in the top 4 of the Big Ten. Not just to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.Those were the expectations for Badger teams of yesteryear. The 2014-15 Badgers could win the National Title. Because of those expectations, let's examine what a successful season could mean for Wisconsin in both the near and distant future.
Expectations are a funny thing. Classic sports cliches will have you believe that teams can crumble under the pressure of high expectations. Teams start to think that they "deserve" to win because everyone tells them so. That's about the oldest sports-related platitude in the book, and has been proven wrong plenty of times. And as much as I hate dumb cliches, there's something to be said about teams that succeed with no expectations. Those teams have no pressure, and at a certain point are playing with house money. They can be relaxed and loose because they know that the season won't be a failure if they don't win it all. That sounds a whole lot like last year's Wisconsin team.
But how will the team handle the high expectations coming into next season? Will they succumb to the pressure?
To answer that question, just think about those four teams I listed at the top. One of those teams is not like the other. We all know that historically, Wisconsin does not belong up there with Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky. That's just a fact.
A debate popped up during Wisconsin's tournament run regarding the merits of this team. During their run, many basketball writers who didn't know much about Wisconsin painted this team in an unfair light. They were seen as disciplined, fundamentally sound, and defensive-oriented. They were the team of scrappy upstarts who defied the odds, a rag-tag group that took on and conquered the basketball world. You know, all the traditional ways that the media has painted Wisconsin basketball.
As many Badger fans know, that wasn't true. Last year's team wasn't the traditional plodding swing offense of a classic Bo Ryan team. They played at a quick pace, and averaged 73.5 points per game. The Badger offense was exciting, precise, and efficient. But that didn't stop plenty of national writers from applying the traditional Badger basketball stereotypes to last year's team, even when those who watched the Badgers every night knew that this team was different.
And even though last year's team with chock-full of talent, plenty of folks still dismissed the Wisconsin stars, simply because they wore a Wisconsin jersey. Sam Dekker was a 5-star recruit. Bronson Koenig had offers from Duke, Kansas, and UNC. Nigel Hayes was an ESPN top-100 recruit. Although they don't recruit on an Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky-level, this team had stars. But because people assume that Badger teams are full of Johnny NoNames from East Nowheresville, Wisconsin, few gave Wisconsin's talent as much credit as it deserves
While the Badgers will be in the top 5 coming into next season, the stereotypes of past Badger teams will remain. But that is AWESOME. You know why? Because they can keep sneaking up on the traditional powers, even though they belong up there. It's funny that the counterproductive perceptions of Wisconsin basketball will only help this team as they progress in 2014-15.
Last year's Final Four run should have reverted the anti-Wisconsin bias. And in some cases, it has. People no longer view Bo Ryan as a solid regular season coach who can't hack it in march. But on the whole, people will forget Frank Kaminsky's dominance. People will forget how good Bronson Koenig looked against Kentucky. People will forget that this team is still loaded with talent. Not just scrappy, three-point-shooting, charge-takers. But legitimate NBA talents.
That will only help the Badgers next year. Yes, expectations will be sky-high. But compared to Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky, Wisconsin will be dismissed as unworthy. That chip-on-the-shoulder mentality elevated the Badgers to the Final Four last year, and will help them progress further next year.
A successful 2014-15 season will finally make people view the Badgers as a legitimate threat to win it all every year. And with some high-powered recruits in the class of 2015 considering Wisconsin, they could keep chipping away at the stereotype that Wisconsin doesn't get good recruits. Diamond Stone of Milwaukee is the best center in the country. When he'll be a freshman, Frank Kaminsky will be gone. That's got to be appealing. Other top recruits like Henry Ellenson, Jarvis Johnson, Josh Sharma, and Brevin Pritzl are considering Wisconsin as well. If they couple another Final Four run with a star-studded recruiting class, the Wisconsin basketball program will change forever.
Let's say that our dreams come true. Wisconsin wins it all and signs Diamond Stone. Will the Badgers finally fit in alongside Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky? I honestly don't think so.
But that's just fine by me. Let the Badgers keep scheming on the low. Someday, everyone will recognize.