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Wisconsin Was Like a Box of Chocolates

You never knew what you were going to get with the maddening 2012-'13 Wisconsin basketball team. Yeah, Forrest Gump was from Alabama, not Mississippi, but play along anyway ...


Wisconsin was supposed to play last night. At least once more.

After winning 23 games against the fifth-toughest schedule in the nation, you and I weren't wrong to expect more from the Badgers. Bo Ryan may not make deep runs in the tournament, but his teams just don't get booted in the first round.

Then again, the way the season ended was fitting actually. The Badgers failed to show up in a lot of winnable games this year that ultimately cost them a better seeding in the tournament. In turn, fifth-seeded Wisconsin ran into a criminally underrated Ole Miss squad that ended this infuriating season, once and for all. A disappointing ending was not a surprise.

That's not to say the road there was predictable though.

All things considered, I truly enjoyed following the Badgers this season because it wasn't boring. Far from it. The same attributes that made the Badgers frustrating to watch also made them interesting, and you never knew which Badgers would show up, especially when it came to shooting.

Would Wisconsin score less than 20 points in the half or would they score 40? What row of seats will passes from Traevon Jackson and Mike Bruesewitz land in? Who will attempt (maybe even make) the longest 3-pointer -- Sam Dekker or Ben Brust?

"We sat at 9-4. The four losses were to some really good teams, so people didn't know what we had." -Bo Ryan

I've used the word "roller coaster" as an adjective more during the 2012-'13 season than any other year. For a UW team that packed more highlight reel dunks and buzzer beaters into one season than any other group I can remember, it was made to look soft on just as many other occasions. There was very little consistency in execution from game to game.

To many, that responsibility falls on the three senior starters. It is impossible to disagree.

Jared Berggren stepped into his current role last year as a redshirt junior after learning the ropes from Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. Rather than grow into an offensive weapon, however, Berggren slowly lost his 3-point touch and never became assertive down low. Luckily he did develop into one of most well-rounded post defenders Ryan has ever coached, finishing his career with a school-record 144 block (73 this season).

The offensive struggles of Ryan Evans have been examined thoroughly. But when he worked his inside game, as he did during the Big Ten tournament, his potential was downright intriguing.

What can you say about Mike Bruesewitz? With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the guy had all the heart, just not the game to match. I wish we could have seen him completely healthy all year.

Wisconsin needed these guys to be the best versions of themselves in order to advance in March. But that's not what happened. Rather, each senior ended his career with a whimper.

Prior to the season, I was optimistic about the Badgers because their ceiling seemed high. Due to Josh Gasser's injury, however, I couldn't shake the feeling that the team never reached their potential.

Breaking in a brand new starting back court, everyone knew there would be bumps in the road. But we did not expect Wisconsin to be in contention for a Big Ten title, an exciting diversion that wins over Indiana and Michigan afforded the Badgers.

"Our guard play was much steadier once the Big Ten started, not that we had terrible moments in non-conference," said Ryan after Selection Sunday. "We sat at 9-4. The four losses were to some really good teams, so people didn't know what we had."

It turned out that what Ryan had was a very good defensive team full of streaky shooters.

Yet, in retrospect, I've decided this year's team did reach its potential. Not just once, but in every one of its huge wins. The Badgers just couldn't sustain that high level of play, given their limitations.

So maybe that final loss to Ole Miss will nag at the seniors -- walk-ons included -- as they depart. I doubt it will haunt them though. They're young. They had fun. And for the most part, they won.

And if you ever need a reminder of how young and crazy the kids on this year's team were, check out BTN's season finale of The Journey, where the Badger players engaged in a prolonged, awkwardly hilarious clap-and-beatbox rendition of who-knows-what song after their Big Ten tournament win over Indiana.

I never expected to see footage quite like that of a group of major college basketball players. But with this group there were always surprises. So that will be how I choose to remember them.


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