Now that we're a bit past Wisconsin's loss to Notre Dame, what were the major factors that led to the Badgers' exiting the NCAA tournament?
Phil Mitten: Notre Dame couldn't buy a bucket in the first half and yet Wisconsin went into the break only up four points. That was a major red flag. When the other team is shooting 24 percent and you are up nine with five minutes left in the half, you gotta stretch it to double-digits. Another element that was undeniable was how tentative Nigel Hayes looked offensively all night. I feel a tightly-officiated first half would have played to Hayes' strengths more (UW shot only six free throws the whole game), but the refs allowed a lot of contact in the first 20 minutes and Hayes seemed to back off.
But the Badgers were leading at the end regardless and it was the season-long sloppiness that really cost them. Hayes and Bronson Koenig made mistakes while Notre Dame's best players came up big -- Demetrius Jackson and VJ Beachem combined for 30 points after halftime. The fact is 17 turnovers are just too many at this stage of the tournament.
Curt Hogg: I look at the final nine possessions, and the Badgers simply couldn't get a stop. I could talk all day about some missed calls here and there especially down the stretch, but Wisconsin didn't do themselves any favors on defense. The free throws, the Demetrius Jackson full-court drive for the layup, leaving Beachem open for a three. All those things were the difference in a close game throughout.
Andrew Rosin: I know that some will talk about the officiating, and if you're so inclined, the question of how they let Notre Dame play on after they whistled Happ for his fifth foul is a legitimate question in regards to calling the dang game consistently. But with that said, the chickens that seemed to come home to roost vis a vis how Teddy Valentine officiates after the dominant defense in the first half was limited by the offense shooting 34.6 percent and the eight first half turnovers.
The Morning After: Looking back on UW's season
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.
Yes, the Fighting Irish are a flawed team, but they're a team that knows how to score, and if you're not taking advantage of their flaws on the court and make the hill to climb steep? It was a game where the Badgers allowed themselves to get beaten by the Irish no matter how hard you want to make a joke about a Catholic ref on Good Friday.
Drew Hamm: I will now direct your attention to the 17 turnovers, compared to Notre Dame's 12, that the Badgers committed and the six free throws, compared to Notre Dame's 14, that the Badgers attempted. A minor point (lol, jk) to bring up is the fact that Wisconsin's two best players, Hayes and Koenig, had, how do I put this....bad games.
Jon Arens: I think Wisconsin would've won this game if they had simply not turned the ball over on entry passes to the post. I counted at least three. While this can also be attributed to sound defense by Notre Dame, turnovers on entry passes are definitely not something regular watchers of the Badgers are used to seeing. Three extra possessions gained in that category wins the game for Wisconsin, even with the same atrocious ending.
I agree with Phil that not being able to put away Notre Dame in the first half was a major red flag. Given how the Irish were playing, a four point lead at halftime was completely unacceptable. I cannot find it within myself to fault the referees for fact Wisconsin only shot six free throws. The Badgers have two of the best post players in the country. If they want to get free throws, get the ball to them and let them go to work. If UW hits on entry passes early, this strategy likely takes hold. But the entry passes were sloppy, a rhythm was never established, and a lead was never built.
Given their 9-9 start, how would you grade the Badgers' season and why?
Phil: At the stage the program is in, this is what most Wisconsin basketball seasons should look like: 20 wins, competing for a Big Ten title, and a few postseason wins. My letter grade would be a B+ just due to sheer number of losses. But given the turmoil and the hole this team dug out of, how could you consider it anything other than a rousing success? The highs were quite high and well, yes, the lows were subterranean. As recently as 2013, a Badger team also pulled off some huge upsets in the Big Ten to get rolling only to crap out in a first-round upset to Mississippi. I'll take this season any day.
Curt: I was there for Western Illinois. And Milwaukee. And Marquette. And Northwestern. I'll give this year an A-, simply because of the precedent that this program has established. We're at the point now where Final Fours are the expectation. Very few teams can say that nationally.
The turnaround was remarkable, really. There was no Big Ten title or Final Four, so it's tough to dole out an A for the year, but this Badgers team came pretty close to earning that.
Andrew: A-minus. This was a young team that was looking like it was going to struggle to make it to one of the lesser iterations of the NIT, and while it wasn't as perfectly smooth as the vocals of Kenny Loggins the entire way, (I mean, did you see the Nebraska game?) it was a 2016 filled with a lot of on the court joy.
Drew: Man, this season was fun. The team was so very garbage at the beginning of the year and it made me sad. But then our philandering head coach abruptly retired and gave the reigns to a bland bowl of oatmeal. That bland bowl of oatmeal lost all sorts of games, including to Northwestern, to start conference play, but then something amazing happened! The Badgers won seven games in a row, and 11 out of 12, and finished in the top four of the conference for the one millionth straight year. Now our bland bowl of oatmeal had cinnamon and fruit in it and was also served with a side of breakfast meats. Look, I don't know where I'm going with this oatmeal analogy, but Greg Gard is kinda boring and it's breakfast time for me. I give this season a grade of Belgian waffles. That is my favorite breakfast food and thus my highest possible rating.
Jon: In the spirit of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I give the season an AB. The opening game loss was one of the darkest moments of my Badger fandom. Losing to UW-Milwaukee, a program that eventually fired its coach, and Marquette, a school whose best sport has quietly become lacrosse, was not great. Bo Ryan's exit was less than ideal in that I was forced to break the news about it to my father-in-law, and then watched his heart break in real time.
The second half of the season was a thing of beauty. Even I, a long proponent of Gardo, did not see that second half of the season coming. Multiple top ten wins, and on the road? Get out of here. Bo went multiple years without road wins like Gard put together. The loss to Nebraska was very disappointing, but getting into the tournament was all that mattered to me. A round one loss would have been fine. Two wins, and a near Elite Eight? One has to wonder what the Badger's record would've been with Gard at the helm the whole year. Solid AB. Would've been an A if Gard had made the lectures before midterm.
Check back soon for the second half of our season-ending roundtable.