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Wisconsin Badgers fail to qualify for the NCAA Tournament

For the first time in 19 years, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team will not be in the NCAA tournament. After falling short in a spirited campaign against the Michigan State Spartans this past friday, the team’s season has ended painfully short. However, marking this season as a failure does not take into account the full scope of the season.

Graphic by Jake Quatt

As noted for the first time in 19 years, the Badgers not only missed their chance at the NCAA Tournament, but also did not finish in the top four of the Big Ten. With a record of 15-18 overall and 7-10 in conference, Bucky won’t even make the National Invitation Tournament. The NIT is essentially the consolation prize for teams that were good, but not good enough for the NCAA Tournament. 

So what were the expectations going into the season? Departing were four starters, seniors Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown. Even with All-American junior Ethan Happ returning, the Badgers knew they’d be in a hole from the start.

Along with Happ, key reserves are in junior guard Khalil Iverson, and sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice would be entrenched in the starting lineup. Also returning were little used reserves guard Brevin Pritzl, forwards Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen and center Andy Van Vliet. Incoming freshman included guards Brad Davison and Kobe King, along with power forward Nate Reuvers, and then redshirt freshman Aleem Ford.

Expectations were the lowest they’ve been in the last couple decades, but there was reason for optimism. Wisconsin is known for developing players and these were supposed to be the next in line.

The season began with two easy victories. Van Vliet looked to be stepping up, especially offensively. However, as the competition increased in the coming weeks, he vanished, not only from the starting lineup but altogether his playing time disappeared.

The non conference schedule was not easy, but it wasn’t terrible. Games against Xavier, Baylor, UCLA, Virginia, Marquette and Temple all ended in losses. It was clear this team wasn’t ready, and they struggled mightily in crunch time minutes of close games. To make things worse, starting point guard and third leading scorer (9.7ppg) Trice injured his foot and was lost for the season. On top of that, King, a key reserve, was hurt and done for the year as well. By the time the Badgers got into conference play, they were down two key guards, and running an offense exclusively through Ethan Happ. This was not a recipe for success.

As conference play began in January, the Badgers had a 7-7 record. A short winning streak saw the Badgers climb to 9-7. Then, the wheels fell off. In an eleven game stretch, the young Badgers went 2-9. Disgruntled fans started calling for Coach Greg Gard’s job, and clamoured that the program has no future.

It became clear very quickly that this team was not going to make the tournament, and would probably not have a winning record. This season was lost and the team wasn’t showing signs of growth, well until Purdue came to town.

The #6 ranked Boilermakers strolled into Madison on the night the Badgers were paying homage to Frank Kaminsky with a jersey retirement. Badgers from the 2014 and 2015 final four runs were in attendance, and the Kohl Center was packed. This presented the 2017/18 Badgers coming out party. Ethan Happ anchored the attack, with Brad Davison and Brevin Pritzl providing scoring relief. Khalil Iverson was key on the boards and defensively as the Badgers held Purdue to 53 points.

This win started a three game winning streak. Davison stepped up big time in scoring, he finished the year second on the team with 12.1 points per game.his guy is made to be a Badger. He dealt with a serious shoulder injury all season, having to put it back in to place more times than one can remember. Still, he managed to lead the team in charges taken, and was the heart and soul of the team, even as a freshman. To cap his fantastic regular season, he dropped 30 on Michigan State, albeit in a close loss. In a rough season, players like Davison help make the future seem a little brighter.

The Badgers ended the regular season with a close loss at home to then #3 Michigan State. The game was back and forth all afternoon, but more importantly showed how much the Badgers were growing towards the end of the season. They carried this momentum to the Big Ten tournament with a win vs. a 19-12 Maryland team desperately looking for a win to improve their chances for the tournament.

Guys like Pritzl and Davison were huge down the stretch to help out Ethan Happ carry the load offensively. Iverson locked down Maryland’s talented point guard as the Badgers limited Maryland to their lowest point total all season. Balanced scoring and tough defense were critical in helping the Badgers grow at the end of the season.

The season ended the next day to the Spartans, but not without a fight. The Badgers gave the #1 seed all they could handle, ultimately falling short 63-60.

However, the seeds have been planted. While they won’t make the tournament, they finally showed growth in the last few weeks of the season to plant optimism in the minds of the Badger faithful. Young faces like Davison, Reuvers, King and a rising Aleem Ford coerced with veterans like Happ, Iverson, Pritzl, and Trice, could prove to be a top 25 team going into next season. That is a big if Happ returns to play for the Badgers instead of entering the NBA draft. The soon-to-be-senior led the Badgers in every single category this season, which is nearly unheard of. His return is critical to the Badgers success.

This season was not a success, but by the end of it the young Badgers had built a foundation in which to grow upon. The team could have broke apart mid season but they didn’t. They stuck together, road out all the highs and the lows, and eventually found a good team within themselves.

Look for a much better season next year, Bucky will be back.

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