Opinion: Badger hoops will still thrive in 2015-16 season and beyond

The buzz around Wisconsin basketball has softened in recent months. Coming off of back-to-back Final Four appearances, two first round draft picks, multiple players making NBA rosters, Big Ten Tournament and regular season championships, Wisconsin fans have very high expectations for their team. Unfortunately, the departure of all of the key pieces of those phenomenal squads has the college basketball community worried about the Badgers.

Even if you’re a Badger backer, you have to identify with these concerns. The players that left the program this past season accounted for 52 points, 21.5 rebounds, and nine assists per game, more than half the team’s averages in each of those categories. It’s hard to imagine that with such a youthful roster returning to Madison this season that Bo Ryan will be able to create the same type of production.

The Badgers aren’t the only program that are saying goodbye to this level of talent after such a successful run. As a matter of fact, schools like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Arizona go through something similar to what UW is experiencing on an annual basis. Early draft declarations and graduations of key players that have achieved great things for their programs are commonplace in elite level basketball programs. The difference for Wisconsin is that the recruiting pipeline doesn’t work out in their favor the way it does the aforementioned programs. The five-star recruits aren’t usually in favor of spending their basketball seasons with snow up to their ankles, and academic standards are higher at Wisconsin. So, how is Wisconsin to counter this disadvantage? The answer is simple; and it’s an answer Bo Ryan has been developing for two decades.

Click here for a statistical evaluation of Bo Ryan’s legacy.

Bo’s answer to this annual question has remained the same – stick with what we do best, stick to our culture, and things will go our way. The culture of a program is what drives it to success, what morphs good players into great players, and what creates a level of sustainability. Before Bo Ryan, the UW basketball program had some flashes of success, but it was always up and down, back and forth, and you never knew what to expect. Since then, the Badgers have been annual contenders in the Big Ten, produced numerous professional players, and have made 14 (and counting) consecutive NCAA tournaments. Total the three consecutive before Ryan became the coach, and Wisconsin has 17 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances! The basketball world has made it obvious recently that playing for a winning team or program is more important than anything else. Players want to win, that’s all there is to it.

Obviously, this is an uncomfortable time for Sconnie hoops fans. There are so many questions that still need to be answered, so many holes that need to be filled, and an upcoming head coaching vacancy that could drastically alter the projection of the program’s future. So many uncertainties has left us as college basketball fans in limbo about the impending transformations bound to happen soon. But let’s not forget, Wisconsin was the most efficient team in the country last season, they never took any days off, and they were never dejected in defeat nor satisfied in victory. How does a team that’s achieved so much continue with such a mindset? The culture of the program carried them there.

Now, with this established culture in place, how does Wisconsin carry on this culture for this upcoming season, and the seasons beyond? The immediate answer is obvious (and exciting), because Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes will be the leaders for this year’s version of Wisconsin basketball. Both Koenig and Hayes are entering their junior seasons, and in typical Wisconsin fashion, both have seen drastic improvements to their games as they’ve developed, and neither of them has shown any indication of slowing down. Let’s also remember that before Kaminsky and Dekker, the Badgers did not have another first-round talent like Hayes since Alando Tucker in 2007, and all of those teams in between were still successful.

Click here for Wisconsin’s incoming recruiting class for the 2015-16 season.

Moving forward, how does this culture get passed along after Koenig and Hayes have left for the NBA, after Bo Ryan has retired (well, maybe), and after seemingly everyone associated with Wisconsin’s recent run has moved on to something else? The culture must perpetuate itself. If year after year the Badger program preaches those same qualities that have carried them thus far, we’re not only going to see Wisconsin making many more appearances in championships and Final Fours, but eventually the ultimate prize of a National Championship. For Wisconsin, this established culture is what is going to shape the future of basketball in Madison. Sure, Bo Ryan may be on his way out, but that won’t change everything he’s accomplished and created, which is another reason long-time assistant Greg Gard may be the guy to take over the program.

Obviously, time will tell, but in the wise words of Wisconsin sports’ God Aaron Rodgers, R-E-L-A-X Badger fans…more success is coming, and Bo Ryan may even be sticking around for more than this season.

Image from host.madison.com

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