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The Wisconsin Badgers and the Burden of High Expectations

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This season has been unlike any for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team due to actually having national title expectations. Has that hindered or helped the squad this year?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Bo Ryan has never had a team like this. Every year during the lead up to the college basketball season, the Badgers are looked over and picked to finish a number of spots below where they end up come March. This year was...not like that. Every major media outlet had the Badgers as the favorites to win the Big Ten and many predicted they would return to the Final Four for the second consecutive year.

Bo Ryan has never had a team like this. Most of the players that fill out an average Badger roster are under-recruited types from Wisconsin or Minnesota or Illinois that need years of seasoning before they are ready to contribute to a major college basketball program. This year was...not like that. Center Frank Kaminsky was a preseason All-America team member, a Wooden Award finalist, and a unanimous All-B1G selection. Sam Dekker was a five star recruit that was predicted to make all-conference teams as well. Point guard Bronson Koenig was recruited by UNC, Duke, Virginia, and Kansas and he didn't even start until Traevon Jackson was hurt.

Bo Ryan has never had a team like this. The Badgers are a team that is consistently featured in the rankings, not always at the beginning of the season but usually by the end of the year. No. 17 is about where the Badgers feel comfortable. This year was...not like that. Wisconsin has been ranked in the top-6 all year and are consistently in the discussion for the program's first ever number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

These sort of high expectations are rare/previously nonexistent for Wisconsin basketball. There is a different feeling about this team. Every game, whether it is against a ranked Maryland team in a hostile arena or against a decidedly unranked Northwestern team on the moon, is appointment viewing for Badger fans, and quite frankly fans of good basketball as well.

Every team on Wisconsin's schedule is giving the Badgers their best shot. For many teams, playing the Badgers is their Final Four. A team ranked in the top-15 changed their regular game plan to play Wisconsin, and believe me, that wasn't happening for teams led by Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren.

Wisconsin fans, even casual ones, have taken to overanalyzing each game and each possession of wins, let alone the three losses that Wisconsin has suffered this season. I have a text thread with seven friends that consists of thousands of messages speaking to this exact point. I have a friend that once wore jeans to play pickup basketball offering up opinions on what the Badgers can do better against penetrating guards! When did Wisconsin become a basketball school?

The expectations were, and are, undoubtedly high for this Wisconsin team, but Bo Ryan's steady hand has guided the team this far. Who's to say that he can't continue the amazing run the team has been on since last March and return to the Final Four? The burden of high expectations might be heavy, but it is not unmanageable. These Badgers can still accomplish the goal that only one Badger team has ever accomplished. If Wisconsin wins the national title this year, it will be way more impressive than the 1941 team's title though. Mostly because Twitter wasn't as big a deal back then.