2015-2016 started out, without a doubt, as a strange year in Madison, Wisconsin. With the Wisconsin Badgers struggling and then head coach Bo Ryan seemingly just waiting for the right moment to step away, it almost seemed that a program that had spent the better part of the last decade as a model of stability was walking a fine line.
Looking back, however, it’s quite clear that walking that fine line has set them up very well for perhaps another decade or more of stability and success.
After struggling at the beginning of last year in both the non-conference and the first portion of their conference slate, the Badgers hit their stride under then interim coach Greg Gard. The schedule didn’t do the Badgers many favors to start the conference slate, with home games against Purdue, who always seems to play an ultra competitive game in Madison (even when they didn’t have very good teams), Maryland beat them on a Melo Trimble three basically at the final horn and road games at Indiana and at Northwestern.
The lone win in their first five conference games came at home against Rutgers, who spent much of the year being left off of the BTPowerhouse power rankings, for, well.. obvious reasons.
A switch was flipped when the Badgers managed to finally get the big upset they had been looking for at home against the Michigan State Spartans, who at the time were ranked #4 in the nation. They finally managed to pull out the close game at the end, something they had failed to do in each of their four conference losses prior.
They finished the season winning 11 of their final 13 games, with the two losses coming on the road to Michigan State and Purdue. They had a disappointing showing in the conference tournament, losing to Nebraska in their first game before a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
This team is far from finished, however.
With much of the roster from a year ago returning to Madison to build on the success, this team is a very dangerous one to watch. Greg Gard has all the stability he needs with a new contract as the head coach, and with the roster they have it looks nearly certain they will have enough success to gain him even more long term stability in Madison.
The big key was the return of Nigel Hayes, who had entered the NBA Draft. When he announced he was returning, the wheels really started to turn when you looked at the Badgers as Big Ten title contenders and a potential threat to do huge amounts of damage in the NCAA Tournament.
With the three stars, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ leading the way with role players like Khalil Iverson, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter hoping to contribute in big ways, there isn’t much question that this team could be a legitimate national powerhouse.
This team seemingly has all the pieces you would look for in a national title contender, and Greg Gard has certainly shown he has the coaching ability to work with a talented roster and turn them into something very dangerous.