As we collectively rinse the sour taste of defeat and cheap beer from our pallets following the Badgers gut-wrenching defeat to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it might be easiest to think negatively and spitefully. One might think to the various oddities that all had to occur in order for the Badgers to lose a game they controlled for more than 35 minutes. But we must not dwell on the day instead relish the entire body of work.
If you aren’t quite ready to forget the agonizing defeat and look to the positives, I completely understand. Honestly, writing this article has resurfaced many brutal memories that I have forcibly repelled for the better part of 24 hours. But.. we must. We must think back to where this Badger team was in January. Following their loss to Northwestern, did any of you think the Badgers would be a bucket away from the Elite Eight? I’d be willing to wager that not even the most optimistic Badger fan would have predicted that. When for the majority of the season a bid to the NCAA Tournament seemed highly unlikely, we mustn’t sulk over Wisconsin’s inability to close out Friday’s game. If we as fans do that, we don’t give the team fair credit for their improbable turnaround. Despite their porous start to the season, the 2015-16 Badgers accomplished a lot.
First, in qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers protected the program’s NCAA Tournament bid-streak. The streak now stands at 19. Despite starting 1-4 in conference play, the Badgers finished the season in the top-four of the Big Ten for the 16th-straight season. In totaling 22 wins, the Badgers secured 20 wins for the 10th-straight season. Of those 22 wins, four were over top-ten opponents. All of these incredible accomplishments were achieved by an extremely young team under an interim head coach.
If nothing that I’ve said so far has made you feel any better about Friday’s loss, I implore you to take solace in knowing the 2016-17 Badgers will be really, really good. The Badgers are set to return their nine top-scorers, including two who average in double-figures. With the emergence of Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ, the Badgers are now set to have five consistent scorers next season. Imagining a starting-five of Bronson Koenig—who’s proved to be a strong leader and clutch performer—Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes—who was First Team All-Big Ten—Brown and Happ should cause Badger fans to salivate. Add in the contributions of Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas, Jordan Hill, Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vliet off the bench, the 2016-17 Badgers look to be in strong position to make another appearance in the Final Four.
Despite the tear-jerking nature of the Badgers season-ending defeat Friday, 2015-16 season must be considered a resounding success. After starting 9-9(1-4), the Badgers went 12-5 to finish 22-13. Think of it this way: a trip to the Sweet Sixteen isn’t bad for a team considered to be in the midst of a “rebuilding year”. Here’s to you, Bucky. You proved the doubters wrong once again. For the third time in as many years, the 2015-16 Badgers “Made ‘Em Believe”.