Wisconsin's history in the NCAA Tournament is divided into two parts: Before Bo Ryan, After Bo Ryan. The Badgers only made the tournament seven times, in five decades, before Bo Ryan arrived. Granted two of the seven years included a National Championship and a Final Four.
In 1941, Wisconsin won three games (Dartmouth, Pittsburgh, Washington State) en route to a National Title. Perhaps a sign of the state of basketball at the time, the Badgers averaged 42 points per game.
We could refer to these as the lean years. Just four times, over five decades, Wisconsin earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, going 2-4 during those appearances. The Badgers reached a five seed in 1999, but lost in the first round to (12) Southwest Missouri State (43-32).
The 21st Century marked the beginning of prosperity for Wisconsin Basketball. In 2000, Dick Bennett took the Badgers to the Final Four after a 22-14 record earned them an eight seed. On the road, they beat (9) Fresno State, (1) Arizona, (4) LSU and (6) Purdue to reach the Final Four for the first official time in the program's history.
The Final Four run in 2000 set future expectations for the program. After five decades of middling basketball, Wisconsin competed with and beat the elite.
Unfortunately, Bennett promptly retired part way into the 2000-2001 season. Brad Soderberg, who then took over as the interim head coach, went 16-10, earned a trip to the tournament, but was not retained after a first round exit in the 2001 NCAA tournament.
Soderberg's firing opened the door for Bo Ryan. Ryan, at the time, was coaching and UW-Milwaukee, where he'd experienced moderate success (just a 30-27 overall record). However, his achievements at Division III UW-Platteville were unrivaled (356-76 record and four National Titles).
From 2002-2015, Wisconsin made the NCAA tournament each year. Overall, the Badgers went 25-14 in the tournament during the Bo Ryan era. It's an impressive resume:
- 4 - 30-win Seasons
- 14 - NCAA Tournament Appearances
- 7 - Sweet Sixteens
- 3 - Elite Eights
- 2 - Final Fours
The program turned a corner in 2007, winning 30 games (the first time in program history). Unfortunately, the regular season record didn't translate to tournament success. Wisconsin, as a two seed, was upset in the second round (UNLV).
In 2008, the program went 31-5 and won two games in the NCAA tournament, but ultimately fell to Davidson in the Sweet Sixteen. Davidson had a young All-American named Stephen Curry, who was a terror even then. (Curry scored 33 points on 11-for-22 shooting.)
Wisconsin's coming off back-to-back Final Fours, and arguably its best season ever. In 2015, the Badgers finished 36-4 and won Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Titles. Wisconsin almost went chalk (playing the highest seed in each round) to win the National Title and ended Kentucky's undefeated season in the semifinals In fact, looking at Wisconsin's opponent's during last season's run look's like a who's who of college basketball's blue bloods: North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky and Duke. Those teams have won a combined [BLANK] National Titles.
2016 and Beyond
The Greg Gard era is officially underway and here to stay for the foreseeable future. (Gard received a five-year contract to be Wisconsin's next head coach.) The Badgers meet Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament and fans hope a new coach can take the program up another level.