When one thinks of sustained success in college hoops, teams like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are the prototypical programs that first come to mind.
But, hidden beneath the radar for reasons that may stem from its agonizingly slow pace of play or habitual lack of stellar NBA talent, the Wisconsin Badgers are a well oiled machine when March rolls around.
A religious ACC fan likely doesn't know the Badgers have now earned a spot in the Big Dance for 18 consecutive seasons. And a Big 12 aficionado would be shocked to learn that the Badgers have won more NCAA tournament games in the last three seasons that any other team.
Yes, even more than Duke, Kansas and Kentucky.
Let’s take a look at the history that Wisconsin has managed to build and put together around its program.
Very Old History (1934-1959)
Up to this point, Badger basketball had experienced a plethora of success in the Big Ten, but a formal NCAA postseason tournament had yet to be established. March Madness was born in 1939, and Bud Foster led the team to its only national championship in program history in 1941.
Foster won three regular season conference titles during his tenure but never surpassed the Elite Eight after winning it all.
Old History (1959-1993)
This time period of Wisconsin program history was the epitome of horrendous. In this span of nearly 40 years, the Badgers didn't reach the NCAA’s once. In fact, the Badgers only put together eight winning seasons during this painful stretch.
Although few and far between, there were glimpses of joy during the drought. Included in these are a handful of NIT appearances and a historic win over No. 1 ranked Ohio State in 1962.
Recent History (1993-Present)
These are the years that solidified Wisconsin as a Big Ten powerhouse and a consistent contender nationally. Dick Bennett took over in 1995 and promptly led the Badgers to their first winning conference record in 23 years just two years after taking the job in 1997.
In 2000, Wisconsin defied all odds as a No. 8 seed (oh, the irony) and rattled off four consecutive victories to advance to the Final Four for the first time since winning the title in 1941. However, the Badgers were defeated by conference rival Michigan State by a final score of 53-41.
The Bo Ryan era officially began at the start of the 2001 season. The Big TenTournament was created in 1998, and the Badgers brought their first trophy home in 2003. Ryan passed the torch to Greg Gard last season after never missing the NCAA tournament during his tenure.
The real fun in Madison came in the two seasons prior to last. In 2013-’14, the Badgers stomped all the way to the Final Four and had Kentucky on the ropes before an Aaron Harrison three-pointer in the closing seconds ended Wisconsin’s season in gut-wrenching fashion.
In 2014-’15, the Badgers secured wins over collegiate powerhouses Arizona and North Carolina to punch their ticket to the Final Four. An electrifying win over the star-studded Kentucky Wildcats set Wisconsin up for its second NCAA title in program history but the Badgers came up short to Duke by a score of 68-63 in the final.
Last year, the Badgers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before a narrow 61-56 loss to Notre Dame ended their season as well as the Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker era.
Heading into this season, the Badgers were dealt an extremely unfavorable hand by the committee. First, Wisconsin is faced with the chore of knocking off a solid Virginia Tech team just to earn an opportunity to take on the overall No. 1 seed Villanova. Don’t worry, if the Badgers can somehow prevail through all of those teams, red-hot Duke will likely be waiting in the region’s final.