The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15. The series will be released during the summer in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.
Confused? See the advanced stats glossary here.
The 2014-15 season was an extremely successful one for Wisconsin. After putting together one of the best seasons in program history the year before that included a Final Four run and after seeing the return of key players like Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, the Badgers looked to be set for another great season. Not only did the team live up to the preseason hype and expectations, but it put together another simply outstanding season. Overall, the Badgers had an overall record of 36-4, won the Big Ten regular season title, won the Big Ten Tournament, and made it back to the national championship game where the team fell to Duke. It was a masterful success from start to finish and really, outside of a two slips in conference play and two losses to the national champions was nearly perfect.
Let's look back at the season in its entirety.
1. Preseason Expectations
Coming into the year, Wisconsin had extremely high expectations for the season. The Badgers not only had elite level NBA talent, but the team also had proven players, with four of five starters returning. Finding teams that have even one of those is rare enough, but finding teams that had both is incredibly difficult, but that's exactly what Wisconsin had entering the season. The frontcourt was set to be loaded with Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, the team would have a key contributor returning on the wing in Nigel Hayes, and would have two experienced backcourt players in Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. That's what is commonly referred to as a stacked lineup. Due to this, the Badgers were not only selected as #1 in my Big Ten preview, but were separated from all 13 other Big Ten teams.
Here was my preseason storyline for Wisconsin:
The biggest storyline for Wisconsin this season will be whether they can live up to the preseason hype. The Badgers were selected as the unanimous Big Ten favorite by the media during the preseason and many have them as a serious Final Four contender. Bo Ryan and staff certainly have the roster to get the job done this year, but the expectations may be higher than ever before under Ryan. People are expecting big things out of this team and it's going to put a lot of pressure on the players to perform on a nightly basis. If Wisconsin can handle the pressure, this could be a very special team.
The Big Ten writers were in complete agreement and also saw the Badgers as the runaway favorite. In fact, the writers not only selected Wisconsin as the preseason conference favorite, but did it unanimously. Many believed that some of the Big Ten teams could prove challenging for Wisconsin including teams like Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, but virtually nobody thought anybody else would be good enough to actually take the title away from Wisconsin.
2. Non-Conference Play
With incredibly large preseason expectations, the Badgers were expected to march through the vast majority of the team's non-conference slate. Wisconsin would have challenging games against teams like Boise State, Buffalo, and Georgetown among others, but the only game that looked like a major obstacle was the showdown with Duke during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Both teams were projected to be in the Final Four picture and it could be a harbinger of things to come. Here is how things went.
Wisconsin 2014-15 Non-Conference:
- Win (1-0): Northern Kentucky, 62-31
- Win (2-0): Chattanooga, 89-45
- Win (3-0): Green Bay, 84-60
- Win (4-0): Boise State, 78-54
- Win (5-0): UAB, 72-43
- Win (6-0): Georgetown, 68-65
- Win (7-0): Oklahoma, 69-56
- Loss (7-1): Duke, 80-70
- Win (8-1): Marquette, 49-38
- Win (9-1): Milwaukee, 93-54
- Win (10-1): Nicholls State, 86-43
- Win (11-1): California, 68-56
- Win (12-1): Buffalo, 68-56
3. Conference Play
The Badgers were certainly not perfect coming out of non-conference play, but it was an extremely talented and proven team that had notched off plenty of quality wins early in the year. The team clearly looked like the Big Ten frontrunners and a potential contender for a #1 seed at season's end. On top of that, Wisconsin's only loss came against a loaded Duke team in a competitive game. Of course, carrying that momentum into a tough Big Ten could prove difficult and many were interested to see if Wisconsin could maintain their elite play. Here is how things went.
Wisconsin 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
- Win (1-0): Penn State, 89-72
- Win (2-0): Northwestern, 81-58
- Win (3-0): Purdue, 62-55
- Loss (3-1): Rutgers, 67-62
- Win (4-1): Nebraska, 70-55
- Win (5-1): Iowa, 82-50
- Win (6-1): Michigan, 69-64 OT
- Win (7-1): Iowa, 74-63
- Win (8-1): Indiana, 92-78
- Win (9-1): Northwestern, 65-50
- Win (10-1): Nebraska, 65-55
- Win (11-1): Illinois, 68-49
- Win (12-1): Penn State, 55-47
- Win (13-1): Minnesota, 63-53
- Loss (13-2): Maryland, 59-53
- Win (14-2): Michigan State, 68-61
- Win (15-2): Minnesota, 76-63
- Win (16-2): Ohio State, 72-48
4. Postseason Play
With Wisconsin taking home the Big Ten title, the Badgers were a complete lock for the NCAA Tournament and a potential contender for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the team could perform well in the Big Ten Tournament. Thanks to an impressive conference performance, the Badgers would be the #1 seed in Chicago and get to avoid facing teams like Maryland, Michigan State, and Ohio State in any of the first few rounds. In the team's first game, Wisconsin would face the winner of the Illinois and Michigan game and likely face the winner of an Iowa and Purdue matchup next with a win. Here is how things went:
Wisconsin 2014-15 Postseason Play:
- Win (Quarterfinals - Big Ten Tourney), Michigan, 71-60
- Win (Semifinals - Big Ten Tourney), Purdue, 71-51
- Win (Finals - Big Ten Tourney), Michigan State, 80-69 OT
- Win (Round of 64 - NCAA Tournament), Coastal Carolina, 86-72
- Win (Round of 32 - NCAA Tournament), Oregon, 72-65
- Win (Sweet Sixteen - NCAA Tournament), North Carolina, 79-71
- Win (Elite Eight - NCAA Tournament), Arizona, 85-78
- Win (Final Four - NCAA Tournament), Kentucky, 71-64
- Loss (National Championship - NCAA Tournament), Duke, 68-63
Things were sitting pretty for Wisconsin entering the postseason. Though the team had lost two conference games, it still had just three overall losses and had an excellent route to the championship game in the Big Ten Tournament. Along with this, if the Badgers were indeed able to get to the championship game and pull off the win, there was a pretty good chance that Wisconsin would become a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin was in excellent position regardless of what happened in Chicago, but really had the chance to build its resume in the Windy City.
With Michigan blowing out Illinois in their matchup, the Badgers would be faced with another matchup with a tricky Wolverines team in the quarterfinals. Though many outsiders looked at this game as an easy win, as detailed in my Michigan retrospective, this was a Wolverines team that had been trending up for for awhile and one that had taken Wisconsin to overtime just weeks earlier. All told, KenPom still gave Wisconsin 90.7% odds before tip-off.
During the game, the Wolverines really came out firing. Zak Irvin had a huge game and Michigan also got production inside from Ricky Doyle. In fact, with just over 5 minutes remaining, the game was tied at 54-54. It truly was a tight battle for the vast majority of the afternoon. Fortunately for Wisconsin, the Badgers were able to take control in the final minutes thanks to Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky and win by a final score of 71-60.
While Wisconsin was taking care of Michigan in the quarterfinals, the Boilermakers were facing Penn State after the Nittany Lions upset Iowa the day earlier. Purdue was able to avoid the upset and thus, would matchup against Wisconsin in the semi-finals. Purdue had surprised many during conference play going from what looked like a bottom dwell to a top four finish. However, as detailed in my Purdue retrospective, the Boilermakers had gotten some scheduling breaks to put together its great conference record and KenPom's pre-game odds reflected that as the Badgers would still be 85.5% favorites in the game.
Wisconsin opened the game well and jumped up 7-2 early on, but thanks to some huge plays from Vince Edwards and Kendall Stephens, the Boilermakers not only kept up, but grabbed the lead for much of the first half. In fact, with just 3:48 left before halftime, Purdue led Wisconsin 28-21 and though Wisconsin was able to cut it before halftime, the Boilermakers still held a 35-30 lead at the break. Wisconsin was still in good position, but needed to take control early in the second half to prevent a potential upset.
The good news for Wisconsin is that the Badgers came out firing in the second half thanks to Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky making play after play. The Badgers tied it up by the 16:43 mark and led 44-38 with 13:53 left. Purdue was able to make plays here and there, but from that point on, the Boilermakers were really just trying to play catch up, which does not work well against a team like Wisconsin. Ultimately, the Badgers won 71-51.
With the win over Purdue, the Badgers would move to the championship game and find themselves favored against a very tough Michigan State squad. As detailed in my retrospective, the Spartans had struggled with things like free throw shooting all year, but when Michigan State was playing well, it was a very dangerous team. The Badgers still had 76.8% odds to win the game, but it was a key difference in difficulty as Wisconsin was moving from the "lock" range into a much tighter matchup on paper.
The first half contained some of the best and most exciting basketball of the entire Big Ten season. Wisconsin would get a bucket from Nigel Hayes or Frank Kaminsky and the Spartans would get something from Matt Costello or Branden Dawson in response. It truly was a back-and-forth affair and the score was tied with just minutes before halftime. At the break, Michigan State was able to grab a slim 32-31 lead, which tells a lot about the game.
In the second half - where Wisconsin had dominated all season - the Badgers got off to a nice start again, but Michigan State simply fought back this time. There would be no walking away with the game this time. In fact, as the game got around the 10 minute remaining mark, the Spartans actually took a decent lead and got up 52-43. Again, this was not a "do or die" type of game for the Badgers, but a win would be huge for the team's season.
Down the stretch, the two teams battled it out yet again and Wisconsin was able to close the game. In the final few minutes of regulation, both teams exchanged massive buckets. To put the battle in perspective, just consider that the game was tied with 2:03 left and just over a minute later, both team had exchanged the lead. Ultimately, Bronson Koenig hit two big shots and pushed the game to overtime. In the extra segment, the Badgers completely dominated and actually held Michigan State scoreless, winning 80-69. Just take a look at the in-game battle.
With the win, Wisconsin not only took home the Big Ten Tournament title, but earned itself the #1 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. Other teams in the region included #2 seed Arizona, #3 seed Baylor, and #4 seed North Carolina. The first game for the Badgers would be against #16 seed Coastal Carolina with a projected matchup against #8 seed Oregon in the Round of 32.
The Chanticleers were able to keep it semi-interesting for quite some time, but ultimately, the Badgers were simply too good for a #16 seed. By about the 10 minute mark in the first half, Wisconsin had opened a 20-12 lead and pushed it to a 15 point advantage by halftime. Coastal Carolina would get a bucket here or there and cut the gap, but could never get within 10 points of the Badgers and spent much of the time closer to the 20 point mark. Wisconsin eventually won the game 86-72 to move to the Round of 32.
For the second year in a row, the Badgers would face Oregon in the Round of 32. Before the opening tip, Wisconsin had 84.8% odds to win the game and realistically, as long as the Badgers could control Joseph Young, it seemed pretty likely that Wisconsin would come out on top. The interesting thing is that though Young would eventually light up the scoreboard, he started out rather slow, without a bucket in the first 10 minutes of the game. During that period, the Badgers jumped out to a solid 20-9 lead and few thought the team would be challenged down the stretch.
However, that's when Young started heating up. He hit jumper after jumper and with some help from Dillon Brooks, the Ducks gradually closed the gap and got it to 31-28 at halftime. Suddenly, what looked like it was headed for a blowout turned into a battle. Much of the second half continued in the same manner, but ultimately, the Ducks could just never get that extra bit to catch up to Wisconsin and the Badgers moved on by a score of 72-65.
In the Sweet Sixteen, the Badgers would get North Carolina. Though many were critical of the Tar Heels, North Carolina was an extremely talented and dangerous team. KenPom gave Wisconsin just 72.1% odds to win before tip-off. Like the Oregon game, the matchup would open as a tight battle. North Carolina relied on several players to do their work while Dekker and Hayes carried the Badgers. At halftime, the Tar Heels led 33-31.
In the second half, Wisconsin spent much of the time fighting from behind. Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks were able to get enough plays to maintain the lead and with with about 11 minutes remaining, North Carolina sat up 53-46. However, the Badgers then got a few key plays from Hayes and Koenig and were able to get it within a possession. In the closing minutes, Wisconsin got some big plays from Zak Showalter and Kaminsky and were able to win by a final score of 79-72.
With the team's win over North Carolina, the Badgers would advance and get a rematch of the previous year's Elite Eight thriller with Arizona. Both teams had completely loaded rosters and were set to have a classic matchup for the privilege to move on to the Final Four. The Wildcats were actually so good, that many experts believed they should have been a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament themselves. Alas, they were a #2 seed and would face Wisconsin for the shot at a trip to Indianapolis.
Notably, before tip-off, KenPom gave Arizona a 56.6% chance to win. This is notable because it was the first time all season that the Badgers would be an underdog before tip-off according to KenPom. Think about that for a second. It took until the team's 38th game of the year before the Badgers were an underdog according to the advanced stats. That's simply incredible.
Of course, the game itself would live up to the hype as well. Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both would score 17 points for the Wildcats and Arizona's defense would play tough, but Wisconsin's two headed machine of Dekker and Kaminsky would prove to be too much. The most important statistic in the matchup was Dekker's 3PT shooting. Though Dekker was largely a spotty outside shooter, he connected on 5 of 6 of his long range attempts, pushing Wisconsin to the Final Four by a final score of 85-78. It was disappointing to see such a great team like Arizona fail to move on, but Wisconsin certainly earned their spot in Indianapolis.
The team's reward would be a matchup with arguably the best college basketball team in recent memory. The Kentucky Wildcats had put together a perfect 38-0 record and were hoping to put together the first undefeated season since Bobby Knight's Hoosiers did it in 1976. This was also a team which was absolutely stocked with NBA talent not only in its starting lineup, but also on its bench. In fact, Kentucky had used a "platoon" system earlier during the season in an effort to get some of its bench players on the court. Something that's almost unheard of for top 25 teams. Needless to say, Kentucky would be one heck of a challenge for Wisconsin.
The game would go down as an instant classic and perhaps the single best game of the entire 2014-15 season. It started with some big shots on both sides including more great shooting from Dekker. Without exaggerating, the entire opening segment of the game was a back-and-forth affair. Kentucky would take a slight lead and Wisconsin would close it right back up. However, at about the 10 minute mark, Kaminsky hit some big shots to get Wisconsin its first sizable lead of the game. Of course, as the half started to close, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison would lead a charge to get it tied at 36-36 at halftime.
The second half would largely go like the first half with Wisconsin hitting a few big buckets and Kentucky responding with some of their own. Kaminsky had a huge performance early on and Karl-Anthony Towns did as well. The game largely started tight with Wisconsin holding a possession or two lead until the eight minute mark, which was when the Wildcats were able to snag the lead. With just two minutes remaining, the game was tied 60-60.
Then in the final minutes, thanks to a controversial shot clock call, a huge 3PT shot from Dekker and some effective free throw shooting, Wisconsin was able to take and preserve a slim lead. The Badgers ultimately won by a final score of 71-64, but that score fails to capture the epicness of those final few minutes. This was the reaction the Badgers got from their fans after knocking off the huge win. Really, really cool.
It was a massive win and an upset that will be remembered for decades. Unfortunately though, the game came in the Final Four and not in the National Championship game. As such, Wisconsin would get a rematch with Duke with the title on the line. The Blue Devils had accounted for Wisconsin's only non-conference loss of the season, but the Badgers would be slight 54.9% favorites before tip according to KenPom.
Like the game before, it was set to be a fantastic matchup. Kaminsky would have to find a way to contain Jahlil Okafor inside and other Duke players like Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones would pose major challenges, but with Wisconsin's offensive firepower, it was set to be a great matchup. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, the Badgers would be on the wrong side of the opening segment of the game. The score was always within a possession or two, but Duke consistently kept control. Luckily, Wisconsin was able to tie up the score at 31-31 at halftime. However, one key segment may have overlooked was early foul trouble for Okafor, where Wisconsin was unable to capitalize.
In the second half, Kaminsky would go to work, but Wisconsin just didn't have an answer for Jones or surprise breakdown star Grayson Allen, who amassed 16 points on the night. The duo hit big shot after big shot and kept Wisconsin close enough to allow Duke to make a final push in the closing minutes of the game. On top of that, Okafor made some huge shots late in the game, pushing the Blue Devils to a 68-63 win.
It was a rough way for an incredible Wisconsin game to end its run, but it was still a fantastic season for a team absolutely loaded with talent. Overall, Wisconsin put together a 36-4 overall record, returned to the Final Four, beat a previously undefeated Kentucky, won the Big Ten championship, and won the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers may not have gotten the win at the end of the season, but it was an outstanding run.
Wisconsin may have been far from a perfect team, but there's no doubt that the Badgers were one of the best teams in the country and had a plethora of strengths. Among these strengths, the team's unbelievable offensive performance was far and away the strongest part of its game. By avoiding turnovers and being incredibly efficient inside, the Badgers became the most efficient offensive in KenPom history. Wisconsin also did a great job at avoiding fouls.
Before jumping into the details of Wisconsin's offense, it's important to first put its efficiency in some sort of perspective. This offense was so good that it's almost hard to believe it wasn't a video game. Just take a look at how the offense compared to the Big Ten's top rated offenses on KenPom over the last 10 seasons.
Needless to say, Wisconsin's offense was elite last season. Remember, the chart above only looks at the most efficient Big Ten offenses from the last 10 seasons and the Badgers were still a step above every else. Just to put that in context, remember that those previous teams included players like Trey Burke, Draymond Green, Victor Oladipo, Nik Stauskas, Jared Sullinger, and Cody Zeller. There were some great teams and Wisconsin's offense was still the best by a pretty decent hunk.
So how was this offense so good? Well, as mentioned, it started by holding onto the ball. Wisconsin finished #1 nationally in offensive turnover rate and #3 in offensive steal rate. The Badgers held onto the ball when the team got possession, which goes a long way toward increasing efficiency. Just take a look at how some of Wisconsin's best players in turnover rate compared to the rest of the Big Ten.
Along with the team's general offensive production and its ability to avoid turnovers, Wisconsin was also incredibly efficient inside. The Badgers finished at #9 nationally in 2PT% and #16 nationally in eFG%. The way Wisconsin was able to do this was largely thanks to Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, and Frank Kaminsky. These three players were not only the three Badgers who had the biggest roles in the offense last season, but all three shot over 54.1% from 2PT range and Dekker shot an incredibly impressive 63.9% inside the arc, which was second in the Big Ten. In fact, just take a look at how these three compared to the rest of the Big Ten.
Wisconsin was certainly far from a perfect team, but the Badgers did an incredible job on the offensive end of the floor and it started by holding onto the ball and playing efficient basketball inside. On top of this, the Badgers also led the nation in the ratio of free throw to field goal attempts on the defensive end, showing the team's ability to avoid fouling. It's a huge part of the team that was overlooked for Wisconsin last year, but helped significantly.
Realistically speaking, the Badgers didn't really have any major weaknesses last season. When a team is able to dominate as well as the Badgers did from start to finish, there are not going to be a lot of major issues. The only two areas that do pop out were Wisconsin's inability to block shots consistently on the defensive end and the struggles to force turnovers. Neither was a huge red flag as the Badgers still finished at #54 nationally in defensive efficiency, but the areas were some of the weaker parts of the team.
There's no debating that Wisconsin was not an elite shot blocking team last year. One can certainly argue that the Badgers didn't need to be one - the overall defensive numbers would support that logic - but the fact is that Wisconsin was not a fantastic shot blocking team. To start, the Badgers finished at #238 nationally in defensive block rate. On top of that, Wisconsin also had no players finish in the top 10 of the Big Ten in defensive block rate and only had one player finish in the top 35. Kaminsky was an offensive machine, but not an elite shot blocker and he didn't receive a ton of help elsewhere in this year. Just see how Wisconsin compared to the Big Ten in blocking stats.
Another area where Wisconsin could have been stronger was in the team's ability to create turnovers. The Badgers came in at just #235 nationally in defensive steal rate and just #334 in defensive turnovers. Simply put, Wisconsin was just not a great team at getting opponents to turn over the ball. Along with this, the team's individual performances were not great as no Badgers came finished the top 40 in the Big Ten in steal rate. Just take a look at how Wisconsin compared to the Big Ten.
These areas were not huge issue as Wisconsin still had arguably the nation's best offense and performed pretty well overall on defense as well, but when talking about some of the weaker parts of the team, these are two areas that could have been better.
7. Top Player
Entering the season, there wasn't much debate regarding who would be Wisconsin's best player. Virtually every eye would be on Frank Kaminsky and most generally agreed that he would be in serious contention for Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year. Sam Dekker was also discussed as a potential candidate for the team's best player, but largely, the consensus was Kaminsky.
Let's take a look at how the players compared.
Wisconsin 2014-15 Stat Leaders:
- Minutes - Josh Gasser
- Field Goal Attempts - Frank Kaminsky
- Points - Frank Kaminsky
- Rebounds - Frank Kaminsky
- Assists - Frank Kaminsky
- Blocks - Frank Kaminsky
- Steals -Nigel Hayes
Kaminsky also held up very well in the advanced stats.
Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top. To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player during the game. Here is how Wisconsin stacked up.
It's pretty obvious that Frank Kaminsky was Wisconsin's best player last season. This probably comes as no surprise considering that he won Big Ten Player of the Year, but his dominance is incredibly impressive. Remember, the Badgers also had a 1st Round pick in last year's NBA Draft in Sam Dekker, a 3rd team All-Big Ten player in Nigel Hayes, and a member of the All-Big Ten Defensive Team in Josh Gasser on the roster. This was a completely stacked lineup and Kaminsky was still head and shoulders above any other player on the team.
8. Sixth Man
The Badgers were not a team that relied on much bench production last season, but this probably had more to do with the quality of the team's starters than any issues with the bench. Overall, Wisconsin came in at #344 nationally in bench minutes.
Last season, Wisconsin's most started lineup was Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes, Frank Kaminsky, and Bronson Koenig. This was certainly not the lineup for the entire season, but these were the most started players, which is the measure for this comparison. This left the top bench contributors as Vitto Brown, Duje Dukan, Traevon Jackson, and Zak Showalter.
Wisconsin 2014-15 Bench Leaders:
- Minutes - Duje Dukan
- Field Goal Attempts - Duje Dukan
- Points - Duje Dukan
- Rebounds - Duje Dukan
- Assists - Traevon Jackson
- Blocks - Vitto Brown
- Steals - Traevon Jackson
Here is how the bench players held up in the advanced stats comparison.
There really were a few key players that contributed significantly off the bench last year, but when all is said and done, Duje Dukan probably takes a slight edge over the others. Zak Showalter put up nice numbers and Traevon Jackson was pretty good when he was able to play, but Dukan was the most consistent and productive player off the bench for Wisconsin last season.
9. Top Storylines
The storyline of Wisconsin's 2014-15 season was an interesting one. For much of the year, it almost felt like the Badgers were simply going through the motions and waiting for March to arrive. This isn't to insinuate that the team was not giving full effort or underachieving, but more to describe how much talent was on Wisconsin's roster and how high expectations were for the Badgers coming into the year. No matter what, Wisconsin would be defined by the number of titles the team secured during the regular season and its NCAA Tournament performance.
Ultimately, Wisconsin was largely able to fulfill those expectations. The Badgers did lose the national championship game to Duke, but it's hard to rationalize a 36-4 season that included a Big Ten title, a Big Ten Tournament title, and a Final Four as anything other than a resounding success. This was one of the best Big Ten teams in recent memory and the Badgers lived up to the hype.
The season started extremely well with a 12-1 record in non-conference play and though the Badgers did suffer two upsets in Big Ten play against Maryland and Rutgers, a 16-2 record in the conference was extremely impressive. The Badgers may have had a bit of a soft Big Ten schedule, but with a season sweep of Iowa and wins over Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue, there were plenty of worthy challenges.
In the postseason, Wisconsin took care of business in the Big Ten Tournament and the first few NCAA Tournament games. The Badgers did have some challenges against teams like Michigan, Michigan State, and Oregon, but nonetheless, Wisconsin was able to move on. Of course, Wisconsin was also able to pull off wins against North Carolina and Arizona in its own bracket and then pull off the incredible upset over Kentucky.
The season's conclusion against Duke was certainly a letdown, but after all Wisconsin had achieved during the season and really, the last two seasons, it was an incredible run for Wisconsin. When players like Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky arrived on campus, few could have imagined this kind of success during their careers, but that's exactly what happened. With multiple trips to the Final Four and an outright Big Ten title, it had to be a lot of fun for both the players and the fans.
(Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
10. Final Verdict
Wisconsin's performance during the 2014-15 season may not have exceeded preseason expectations, but considering how high the bar had been placed, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Badgers put together an outstanding season with another trip to the Final Four and numerous Big Ten awards.
The Badgers were largely carried by their elite offensive production, solid defense, and the incredible play of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. With these two in the fold and several other key contributors, it allowed Wisconsin to compete inside with any team in the country, including an absolutely loaded Kentucky team that would send a massive hunk of its roster to the 2015 NBA Draft.
Of course, the defense could have been better and the loss to Duke was particularly rough, but it certainly doesn't come close to overriding such an incredible season in Madison. Along with this, even if Wisconsin had a bit of a soft Big Ten schedule, a 16-2 conference record with wins over a bunch of NCAA Tournament teams should override those concerns. There's no doubt Wisconsin was not a perfect team, but it's hard to view criticisms on last year's Badgers without simply viewing it as nitpicking.
Wisconsin was an absolutely elite team in 2014-15 and though the Badgers were unable to get the banner the program so desperately desired, looking at the team as anything other than a resounding success is ridiculous. This was a unit that went 36-4 overall, 16-2 in the Big Ten, and beat a plethora of really good teams. It was an incredible ride for the program and fans and one that likely won't be repeated again for quite some time.
Season Grade: A+