The Wisconsin Badgers are making their 19th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. However, there haven’t always been happy, we’re-in-the-tournament vibes in Madison. In fact, prior to 1994, the Badgers missed the tournament for 47 straight years. To put that in perspective, Wisconsin sat at home in March during the entirety of the Cold War and saw ten presidents take office.
Finally, in 1994, the Badgers found themselves back in the Dance, and five years later, began the streak of tournament appearances that lives on today. Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan instilled a tradition of winning on this program that Greg Gard looks to maintain. Before he takes the stage in his second NCAA tournament, let’s take a look back at some of Wisconsin’s finest moments in March.
World War 2 Champs
Image courtesy of UW Archives library
Just take a look at that picture for a second–how have we not brought back those socks yet? And knee pads! Basketball must have been a dangerous sport. The Badgers’ sole national championship came in 1941, where coach Bud Foster lead Wisconsin to a 39-34 victory over Washington State. Though it came 76 years ago, a national championship is a national championship. Guard John Kotz was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and this would be the last win for the Badgers in the NCAA tournament until their return in 1994.
2000 Final Four run
If you’re looking for some uplifting news after watching the reveal of the abomination that was Wisconsin’s seed on Selection Sunday, look no further than the Badgers run to the Final Four in 2000. Their seed? 8th. Big men Mark Vershaw and Andy Kowske led the way with 11.8 and 9.2 PPG–that is not a huge amount, but these were the old, low-scoring Badgers, averaging 59.9 PPG, 307th in the nation. Nobody outside of Madison saw this one coming.
Hughes off the bank
See 3:12 for Hughes incredible shot.
This shot makes our memorable moments list for several reasons–first and foremost, it was a tournament upset (the 5-12 upset, watch for it in the days to come, it’s inevitable). Given that Wisconsin usually entered the tournament as a higher seed, they were usually the ones being upset. Not this time, said Trevon Hughes. Hughes is 16th on the all-time Badger scoring list, and is one of three players in Badger history to score 1,300 points, grab 300 rebounds, and dish out 250 assists. The degree of difficulty of the shot makes it even more memorable. If you watch closely at the video, after he spins, he is facing the Wisconsin bench–completely perpendicular to the basket. The Badgers never advanced past the Sweet 16 in Hughes’s years, but this is a shot he’ll never forget.
“I can believe I’m gonna say it, they’re going to the Final Four!!”
What an incredible way to send Bo Ryan to his first Final Four. Even if a trip to Texas wasn’t on the line, this was still one of the best basketball games you’ll ever see–a back-and-forth game, excellent defense, teams fighting their heart out, and suspense (for those who didn’t watch this game, there was a point at the end where the officials reviewed a critical out-of-bounds play for a grueling five minutes, leaving the fans in agonizing suspense). Arizona point guard Nick Johnson was called for an offensive foul with 3.2 seconds left, Arizona stole possession back when the ball deflected out of bounds off Traevon Jackson (see: grueling review), but didn’t get a final shot off before the buzzer. Chalk one up for the Badgers.
Koenig in the Corner
After a heartbreaking loss in the championship to Duke, the expectations for the Wisconsin in the 2016 NCAA tournament were significantly lower. Though they were entering the postseason on a hot streak, no one really expected the 7th-seeded Badgers to make any real noise. But lo and behold, here came Bronson Koenig, making one of the loudest noises in the tournament. One of the true buzzer beaters in Wisconsin tournament history, the shot fading away in the corner shall not soon be forgotten. But not all credit can be given to Koenig; he never would have had the chance to shoot had it not been for an amazing charge taken by Zak Showalter on the other end. And had it not been for a late-game debacle against Notre Dame, the Badgers would have found themselves back in the Elite Eight for the 3rd straight year.
It’s simply the greatest game in the history of Wisconsin basketball.
David vs. Goliath, (ok, Wisconsin wasn’t quite David, but 38-0 Kentucky was absolutely a Goliath), this was the rematch everyone had been waiting for. The sweet, sweet taste of revenge hit the moment the clock struck zero. This Wildcat team was overpowering, only trailing 213 out of 1,543 minutes the entire year. There was a period in the second half where the Badgers went an entire seven minutes without a field goal, yet Wisconsin only trailed by four. And when the game was tied at 60, Sam Step-Back-Jack Dekker said, “Ok, I’ve had enough of this, let’s go win a basketball game” and proceeded to hit a clutch three pointer, and on the other end took a huge charge. In the words of Jim Nantz, “There will be no undefeated champion, On Wisconsin!”
We can’t know for sure what this tournament holds for the Badgers. We’ll find out soon enough. But one thing we know for sure is that if history is any indication, Wisconsin is going to bring Madness to this tournament.