clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Morning After: Initial thoughts on Wisconsin's 2015-16 season

New, 148 comments

Wisconsin's ride fell short on Friday night, and did so in crushing fashion. Let's try to put the season in perspective, just hours later.

Sports do something that very little else in this world can. For all involved, they provide a thrill that's difficult to parallel.

Unfortunately, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Disagree with Newton? He will simply point you to the last six days for the Wisconsin Badgers.

The thrill occurred in St. Louis on Sunday. Two triples in an 11-second span changed Wisconsin's fortunes from "season over" to the Sweet Sixteen.

On Friday evening, the Badgers got their hearts ripped out in Philadelphia. No flowery prose or meticulously-crafted set of words can say it better than that.

Wisconsin led 49-44 on a Jordan Hill steal-and-layup with 3:36 to play. Greg Gard's team could taste the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season.

Vitto Brown's triple with 28 seconds to play could have been a shot to go down in Badgers basketball history lore. It gave Wisconsin a 56-53 lead. Victory seemed imminent.

But Notre Dame closed on an 8-0 run. After struggling against the Badgers' defense all game long, the Irish scored on eight of its last nine possessions.

The crushing heartbreak of the Sweet Sixteen loss, shoddy officiating or not, is that equal and opposite reaction.

The future is bright in Madison, of course. Jordan Smith is the only senior on the Badgers. If Nigel Hayes returns next season, the entire nine-man rotation for Wisconsin will be back and even better. Andy Van Vliet and Brevin Prtizl will be added to the mix. There will be Final Four expectations, and don't expect the Badgers to shy away from those.

That's the status quo. But, as Michigan State coach Tom izzo alluded to earlier this month after his team's stunning first-round upset to Middle Tennessee State:

"I got 200 days to worry about next year, and I'm not going to worry about it one bit today."

For the moment, one day removed from the difficult loss to the Irish, we can reflect on the season that was.

From 9-9 to another 20-win season. From 1-4 in Big Ten play to fourth place in the conference yet again. From Western Illinois to Xavier. From NIT to Sweet Sixteen.

Imagine the early-January version of yourself placing a bet on Wisconsin not only making the NCAA tournament, but advancing to the second weekend. On the Badgers -- in the Big Ten cellar at the time -- extended their conference-record, top-four finish streak by winning 11 of 12. What odds would you have to have been given?

The answer for the Badgers themselves would have been 1:1. This group believed all year long, even when writers like myself started to question whether they could turn it around. The slogan wasn't used this season, but Wisconsin made us believe.

This group didn't deserve to go out like that, with heads in hands and Ethan Happ in tears on the bench. They fought all year long, getting to this very point by winning all of those types of close games over the past 10 weeks. A few bounces the other way against Notre Dame, and Wisconsin is prepping for North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Though it didn't play out that way, it's hard to say that the program is anything but in good hands. 2015-16 was supposed to be a transition year. Turns out, the Badgers didn't miss a beat.

You will always remember the feeling when Bronson Koenig beat second-seeded Xavier at the buzzer.

Unfortunately, it will also be difficult to erase the memories of the finish on Friday.

But that's sports. And it will keep us coming back. Again and again.