As Senior Day approaches for the Badgers when they host Minnesota on Sunday, it will be the seniors’ last time lacing it up at the Kohl Center.
The 2017 senior class consisting of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown has won 110 games and counting, a number that remains quite staggering. In fact, 110 wins makes the senior class the third-most successful class in Wisconsin men’s basketball history. They have won at least 22 games every season.
Not only did they win a lot of games, they won the big ones. The seniors helped Wisconsin reach distances they were previously unable to.
As freshmen, Koenig and Hayes were key role players as they successfully reached the Final Four. As sophomores, Hayes and eventually Koenig (after a Traevon Jackson foot injury) were both starters of the squad that made it back to the Final Four.
Last year as juniors, they were essentially the leaders with only one other senior on the roster. After a rocky beginning of the season, the group rallied behind Greg Gard as they reached the Sweet Sixteen and were only a handful of plays from beating Notre Dame and advancing to the Elite Eight for the third straight season.
Most of their legacy has been written, and Badgers fans have plenty to be thankful for. There have been moments that will always be replayed as you go back into Badgers basketball history. Koenig’s buzzer beater that propelled the Badgers to an upset win over Xavier in the NCAA Tournament last season and Showalter’s surprise, clutch Sweet Sixteen performance in 2015 as he sparked the Badgers off the bench are just a couple. Of course, there were the moments off the court too, like Nigel’s famous press conferences.
The seniors and the team as a whole is extremely close. Their bonds off the court help contribute to their success. As cliche as that sounds, it’s very real according to Zak Showalter.
“Especially cause we’ve got four seniors that have been around for a long time,” Showalter said. “I’ve been here for a long time. When you got guys that live together, and are basically always together off the court, it makes things easier.”
This close-knit culture was evident earlier this year after a tough loss to Northwestern as Bryant McIntosh scored 25 points. Hayes backed up Showalter, the primary defender, during the post-game press confernece.
“I just want to step in,” Hayes mumbled after Showalter said there was nothing else he could do. “I thought Zak did a great job. He [McIntosh] took 23 shots and only had 21 points, we had to foul him twice at the end of the game. Showy did a great job. McIntosh is a great player but it’s not like he walked up and down the court and had his way. He took a large portion of their shots and Showy did a great job.”
“That’s a teammate right there,” Showalter followed.
Ironically enough, that Northwestern loss started the current slide that the Badgers are on. The final month of their last regular season has been rocky and a minor letdown for the 2016-17 season that seemed destined for a Big Ten Championship just mere weeks ago. Undoubtedly, an early burnout in the NCAA Tournament would be an unexpected end after high expectations before the year and a stellar start to this season, but it does not erase what the senior class has already accomplished.
Yes, most of their legacy has already been written, but now it is up to them to determine how it is finished. Sunday afternoon’s game against Minnesota is truly the beginning of the end. Hayes, Koenig, Brown and Showalter are each staring the end of their career at Madison in the face.
Even so, at the beginning of their careers, it is hard to imagine that they would accomplish what they already have. The 2017 senior class will go down as one of the best to ever go through Wisconsin, and rightfully so.