It's hard to argue that Wisconsin's 2013-14 season was anything other than spectacular. The team went 30-8 overall and reached the Final Four for the first time as a program since 2000. It's pretty tough to argue that any season for Wisconsin has been this great under Bo Ryan. There were certainly great years like 2007-08, but there was no season where Wisconsin put together a great year with a great NCAA Tournament run like this. Let's take a look at how this season became so special for Wisconsin.
The Badgers started their season pretty early this year. They took a brief tour of Canada where they were able to experiment with different things and come together as a team. Bo Ryan's teams have all looked pretty similar. Slow tempo, solid defense, and slow, but effective offense. This year's team would look quite different. Instead of playing slow and primarily through defense, this team would use a great offense and a smaller lineup to simply outscore opponents. If anything, it would make them more interesting to watch.
Wisconsin started the season with 2 major challenges right off the bat. A home opener against St. John's followed by another home game against Florida. St. John's wasn't exactly expected to run the table or anything, but they did represent a quality opponent. Along with that, Florida was ranked #11 in the preseason and as everyone knows, would eventually be seeded #1 overall in the NCAA Tournament.
The Badgers answered the bell with 2 straight wins. At this point was when much of the discussion began changing for Wisconsin. The Badgers were ranked #20 in the preseason polls, but were up to #12 by Week 3. Meanwhile, Wisconsin kept churning through the schedule. They smashed through their next 4 opponents before being faced with another big test: Saint Louis. The Billikens were undefeated when they faced Wisconsin and would eventually become a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin once against answered and came away with a win driven by 12 points and 8 rebounds by Frank Kaminsky. It would be another sign of things to come.
Wisconsin was able to finish up in Cancun with another win over West Virginia to return to American for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Badgers had been slated for a road game against Virginia. Though the Cavaliers were unranked when they faced Wisconsin, they would eventually become a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. When Wisconsin came out with a win over Virginia, the nation was on full alert. In the next week's polls (after also knocking off Marquette), Wisconsin moved to #4 in the AP Poll.
Wisconsin really didn't face any more major challenges for the rest of non-conference play, but were able to avoid an upset and entered Big Ten play undefeated at 13-0. At this point, I remember the debates between fanbases about whether Ohio State or Wisconsin was better. Both were undefeated and had high hopes for Big Ten and NCAA play. Beating Northwestern did little to change this, but after Wisconsin's win over Iowa, many were looking at the Badgers as the team to beat. Add a win in over a ranked Illinois and the Badgers were flying high.
Of course, the train finally came to an end in mid January. An upset by Indiana pulled Wisconsin from the unbeatens and a rare home loss to Michigan and a road loss to Minnesota put many Wisconsin fans into panic mode. Perhaps this team really was overrated. Everyone knew the Big Ten would be deep this season. Perhaps some of the teams like Florida, Marquette, and Virginia simply weren't that great.
Things got even worse as Wisconsin finished this run at 1-2 with a win over Purdue, an embarrassing home loss to Northwestern, and another home loss to Ohio State. At this point, Wisconsin was 4-5 in the Big Ten. Yes, the team that had reached 16-0 with wins over Florida, Iowa, Marquette, and Virginia now had a losing record in Big Ten play. That's when the magic started to happen.
Following those 2 painful home losses to Northwestern and Ohio State, Wisconsin would not lose again until the final game of the regular season. This included wins over Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota. In fact, many Wisconsin fans weren't even bothered by that regular season finale loss either. The Badgers lost to Nebraska on the road in one of the most insane environments in the Big Ten. Nebraska ended the season with the Big Ten's best home record as well. Losing the game wasn't even close to some of the earlier losses.
When the regular season ended, Wisconsin was seeded #2 in the Big Ten Tournament. At the beginning of the year, this would have been surprising. After the non-conference season, it would have been expected. However, midway through Big Ten play, this feat would have been amazing. The Badgers did an excellent job of responding to the adversity of conference play and taking that necessary step forward.
The Badgers would fall to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, but not before beating Minnesota and putting up a good fight against a fully healthy MSU. The Badgers had earned their #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and looked forward to the first weekend being virtual home games in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin raced through their 1st game in impressive fashion over American, but would have to battle against Oregon to reach the Sweet 16. Traevon Jackson would step up with 16 points and 8 rebounds. Kaminsky would add another 19 points and 5 rebounds to push the team past the Ducks. It was a big win for a team looking to overcome their Round of 64 letdown the previous year and reach the Sweet 16.
In the Sweet 16, Wisconsin had to face the new media darling Baylor Bears. Baylor had beaten Creighton in the first weekend and ended the career of National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. The intensity for the game would be high. Once again, Wisconsin would meet the challenge. In fact, Wisconsin blew Baylor off the floor. Kaminsky came up big once again with 19 points. Ben Brust added another 14 points and Nigel Hayes added 10 off the bench.
In the Elite 8, Wisconsin would get the challenge of #1 seed Arizona. Many viewed the Wildcats as one of, if not the deepest and most talented team in the nation. Arizona was stacked. In one of the most exciting games of the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin was able to get the game into overtime and beat the Wildcats 64-63 to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2000.
Of course, Wisconsin would fall short against Kentucky the next week after Aaron Harrison hit a 3 late in the game, but the run was still one of the best ones in Badger history and this team should be remembered as a great one for years to come. Not only did Wisconsin reach the Final Four, but they also won an impressive 30 games. That isn't something that happens every year for a program. This is only the 3rd time it's ever happened under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin and obviously the only one linked with a Final Four run.
Could Wisconsin's season have went better? Sure, they could have won the Big Ten, won the Big Ten Tournament, and obviously won the whole thing over the weekend. However, that shouldn't take away from what was a banner year in Madison. Reaching the Final Four is something special and given all the rises and falls of the Badgers over the year, it was even more impressive. The 2013-14 Wisconsin team was never perfect, but they came together and made something special out of a team many didn't think was that special.