Congratulations to the Wisconsin Badgers for garnering their highest-ever preseason ranking in the Associated Press poll at No. 3. Remarkably, despite making the tournament 16 straight years now, this is only the ninth time Wisconsin has been ranked in the preseason Top 25 at all during that span by the venerable writers (although they seem to be catching on lately).
Previously, Wisconsin's highest preseason AP rank was No. 9 prior to the 2006-07 season, when returnees Brian Butch and Alando Tucker graced the regional cover of Sports Illustrated. That team was as good as advertised, reaching No. 1 in the polls briefly before settling at No. 6 in the final poll despite losing Butch to a devastating elbow injury late in the year.
How well has UW met expectations under Bo Ryan during the other years it has been ranked in the preseason AP poll?
*Yes, Wisconsin shared the Big Ten title in this season. Yes, that is crazy.
Throwing out years where the team was not ranked in the preseason, Wisconsin has surpassed expectations from a polling perspective every single year besides 2008-09. So there's your exception that proves the rule.
Besting a preseason rank of No. 3 is going to be a little more difficult -- it's NCAA Tournament favorite or bust, really. However, it's conceivable that Wisconsin will be in a position to be ranked in the top three when the final weekly AP poll is released in mid-March (the AP doesn't release postseason rankings as the Coaches Poll does). By staying healthy, in a very strong Big Ten, it's attainable.
Inevitably, though, the conversation turns to the tournament. And while the naysayers may have become quieter after last season's Final Four run, I'm sure they are still out there. It's worth pointing out that in three of the last four years, the Badgers have finished with a higher ranking in the postseason USA Today Coaches Poll (No. 4 in 2014, No. 12 in 2012 and No. 15 in 2011) than the final AP poll that comes out before the tournament.