Certain moments matter more than others. That sentiment should define the Badgers basketball program today. Honestly, it should define all programs.
On February 9th, after the Badgers beat Nebraska in overtime to improve to 21-3 (10-1), Wisconsin was ranked 5th in the coaches poll (7th in the AP). It was an important moment—being ranked so highly and standing atop the Big Ten. What a moment for an ascending team?
21-days later the Badgers lost at home to Iowa, dropping their 5th game in 6 tries and were just inside the top-25…not the best moment for a team on the descent. Nigel Hayes lamented the little mistakes at the wrong time- "We've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot and play a full game," Hayes said. "We do little things that put ourselves in holes, and run out of time to fight back."
For a program that had been to the Sweet-Sixteen a year ago, and returned all of their minutes and scoring, this was not the path into the post season that Wisconsin—and the fan base expected. The moments that really matter were now at hand.
On Senior Day, the Badgers erased the Iowa loss with a convincing win over Minnesota at home. It was a return to the type of basketball this team was capable of.
Seven days later, the Badgers played in the Big Ten Title game, but fell flat in the second half and awaited their NCAA Tournament seed with a likely landing spot as a 6th seed—somewhere? Instead, and inexplicable 8th seed was revealed on CBS, and the Badgers were off to Buffalo.
The Badgers are gritty and tough and skilled. Those attributes weren’t on display for most of February, but returned in the season finale and the Big Ten Tournament. The nation’s best tournament team over the past 6-seasons (5-of-6 Sweet Sixteens) would do it again. First knocking off resilient Virginia Tech, then pulling the biggest upset of the opening weekend of the tournament—by outlasting the #1 overall seed in the tournament, Villanova.
The numbers are impressive:
4-straight Sweet 16’s
6 of the last 7 Sweet 16’s (the only NCAA team to accomplish either feat)
Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig rank 1st and 2nd among all active players in NCAA tournament points scored.
Over the last 4-seasons, the Badgers are 25-7 in the month of March
The Badgers have posted 5-wins over #1 or #2 seeds in the last 4-NCAA tournaments.
On Friday night at Madison Square Garden, the 8th seeded Badgers meet 4th seeded Florida in the Sweet 16. Forty minutes of moments that matter.