MADISON — Nine games into the highly anticipated 2016-2017 campaign, the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers sit at 7-2, with their two losses against top ten ranked teams, in Creighton and 2016 national runner-up North Carolina.
Currently, the Badgers are playing like the team that many expected to see coming into this year. Wisconsin is riding a three-game winning streak, including two impressive back-to-back victories over then No. 22 Syracuse as well as Oklahoma, both of whose programs played in last year’s Final Four. One key to the Badgers’ play so far is senior leadership and experience, including that of Zak Showalter.
Showalter, a redshirt senior from Germantown, is known as the “glue guy” for this experienced Wisconsin team. Starting for the second year in a row, “Showy” seems to always take charges and make the hustle plays for the team, including really stepping up in last season’s NCAA Tournament versus Xavier and Notre Dame, as well as having the ability to spread the floor and hit from deep.
The fifth-year senior has been a part of some great teams at UW, and feels pretty good about the team’s performance early in the season, but believes there is certainly room for improvement.
“It’s getting better,” said Showalter. “We started off a little slow, so now we’re just trying to get back into the rhythm of playing actual games, and not just going against each other.”
Showalter, along with fellow starters Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown, make up this year’s senior class, one of the most impressive groups the program has ever had. These four players come off a third consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance, and also were a part of back-to-back Final Four teams.
To be successful, teams need leadership, and these seniors are ready to step up when necessary, especially after losses.
“Obviously we’ve been in some of those situations, where we’re coming out on the wrong side of a win,” Showalter said. “But last year, we were coming off those a lot more. Obviously, you don’t want to have those games, but you can take something from those games, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
This sentiment is very important to Showalter and his teammates, especially when the team’s sixth man is a true freshman, in D’Mitrik Trice, who does not have all of that experience at this level.
“I think we’ve done a good job of delivering that message, to the younger guys who maybe haven’t been in that situation, like D’Mitrik. So I think that’s what we’ve been focused on, and we’ll hopefully improve in that area.”
Showalter, Koenig, Hayes and Brown want to do more than just let their play do the talking, although that is a big part of it.
“We’re all working on our vocal skills as well. I think we all have that innate ‘lead by example’ characteristic of ourselves already.”
Wisconsin’s seniors are focused, and have some pretty immediate goals before getting ahead of themselves.
“I think right now, just being ready when Big Ten play hits,” Showalter explained. “We want to finish our non-conference schedule strong, and really be hitting our stride when Big Ten season comes.”
That being said, these four Badgers and their teammates have very strong goals for the rest of the season as well, as Showalter described, trying to hide a budding grin on his face. He knows what this team can accomplish.
“And then [after Big Ten play starts], win the Big Ten, win the Big Ten Tournament, and it just keeps building from there. You can’t look too far, you have to take it one day at a time, and not think ahead too much either.”
Showalter and his senior teammates are saying all of the right things, and at the same time backing it up on the court. These Badgers will look to keep improving, and do as much as they can to add to an already strong, lasting legacy.