Expectations were through the roof for the Badgers entering the 2016-17 season, and for most of the season they lived up to them.
Wisconsin capped off its primarily successful season on Sunday with a loss in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game against Michigan. The loss will leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Badgers, but the trip to the finals at least got things going in the right direction for Wisconsin as they enter the NCAA Tournament.
The Badgers have been a three-headed monster all season long with strong play from seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, and sophomore Ethan Happ. The three combined for an average of 40-plus points per game, with Happ and Hayes each averaging more than six rebounds per game as well.
Those three, along with role players like Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, will need to keep it going for the Badgers to make a deep run in March. Before we lock all of our attention on the NCAA Tournament let’s take a look back at the regular season as well as a quick preview of the upcoming postseason.
Wisconsin entered the season as the favorites to win the Big Ten, with Purdue and Indiana projected as its biggest competition. The Badgers returned 99% of its minutes played from the 2015-16 team that reached the Sweet 16. Wisconsin also returned Hayes, who was picked during Big Ten Media Days as the Preseason Player of the Year. Koenig was also selected to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. Everything suggested the Badgers would have an incredible year and it looked like those predictions would come into fruition early on in the season.
Wisconsin stumbled a little bit out of the gate dropping its second game of the year at Creighton on Nov. 15. However, after that the Badgers would lose only one more non-conference game — the Maui Invitational Championship Game against North Carolina — to finish 11-2 before Big Ten play began. The Badgers topped a number of decent programs on their non-conference schedule, including Syracuse and Marquette. Koenig led the way for the Badgers early on, reaching double figures in all but three non-conference games to average 14.6 points per game.
The Badgers entered conference play on fire and they continued that hot streak throughout the beginning of their Big Ten slate. Wisconsin steamrolled out to a 10-1 record in the Big Ten with their only loss coming on the road at Purdue. Wisconsin was ranked in the top 10 and looked like a lock for at least a share of the Big Ten crown. However, shit hit the fan for the Badgers down the stretch.
Wisconsin ended the regular season losing five of their final seven games to finish second in the league and miss out on a Big Ten Championship. The struggles for the Badgers came down to a number of different things — a banged up Koenig, struggling Hayes and simply a tougher schedule. Despite the rough finish, the Badgers finished 12-6 in league play and 23-8 overall. So not so bad after all but could have certainly been better after such a great start.
All three of Wisconsin’s stars were recognized with All-Big Ten honors with Happ being selected to the First Team, Koenig to the Second Team and Hayes to the Third Team. With such great expectations for Hayes, it was fair to say he had a down year.
The Badgers entered the Big Ten Tournament looking to right the ship to get back on track and that’s exactly what they did in Washington, D.C. Wisconsin took care of business in the quarterfinals and semifinals for double-digit victories over Indiana and Northwestern to find themselves in the championship game on Sunday. The Badgers were over-matched by an extremely hot Michigan team in the final to come up just short of a Big Ten Tournament Championship. While the Badgers came up short in our nation’s capitol, they were able to pick up some big wins and gained some momentum moving into the NCAA Tournament.
One would have thought Wisconsin’s deep run in the Big Ten Tournament would have helped their NCAA Tournament stock but that wasn’t the case. Despite making the final of the Big Ten Tournament the Badgers land as an 8 seed in the East Region and will face Virginia Tech in the opening round in Buffalo. If the Badgers were to win then they would face the No. 1 overall seed Villanova in the second round — that’s of course if Villanova isn’t the first 1 seed to ever lose to a 16 seed. This is a really tough draw for Wisconsin in my opinion. This is a team that was a top 10 team at one point this year, but will need two strong performances to even reach the Sweet 16. Tough break for the Badgers but I guess that rough finish down the stretch was bound to catch up with them at some point.