Ever since last season’s bitter single point defeat at the hands of Kentucky, the Wisconsin Badgers have been on a mission.
However, it seems as if all the talking heads of the college basketball world are characterizing the Badgers completely wrong with their notion that the Badgers have been waiting a whole year to obtain revenge against the Wildcats.
The Badgers do not want revenge, they simply want to do what hasn’t been done in Madison in 74 years, and that is to win the National Championship Game. In 1941, the Badgers knocked off the Washington State Cougars 39-34 to collect their one and only national crown. Since that day, the Wisconsin men’s basketball program has earned three Final Four nods, and will be present at its fifth come Saturday night.
This is an interesting group of college basketball players in the ever-changing college basketball landscape. With the top players in the country, guys like Jahlil Okafor and Karl Anthony-Towns who are likely one-and-dones, the Badgers yield a veteran, incredibly talented group of student-athletes. Three of the Badgers’ most indispensable players are seniors, and arguably the hottest player in the entire NCAA Tournament, Sam Dekker, is a junior.
There are so many reasons to root for the Badgers this upcoming weekend, and I will lay them out to you in short paragraphs below.
The Badgers boast two of the best players in the country in Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, who is primed to receive National Player of the Year honors for his outstanding play as the leader and main scorer on the uber-successful Badgers team. What everyone who is a college basketball fan loves, is the fact that these two sure-fire first round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft could have left a year early for the Association, yet wanted to prove their worth one last time in the NCAA, and bring the Badgers back to the promised land, this time reaching for newer heights.
After beating Arizona for a consecutive year in the West Regional Final, the Badgers are back in the Final Four, and looking for more this season.
They are a group of very under-recruited high school players, as Bo Ryan only has one five star recruit donning the Cardinal and White, that being Dekker. Super senior Frank Kaminsky was a fringe three star prospect, and Wisconsin was the only Big 5 conference team to place an offer on the scrawny 7-footer. Zak Showalter won consecutive high school state championships, but never was realized as the athletic, energetic guy he is off the bench for Bo Ryan. Josh Gasser has played the most games and minutes in Badgers history, and although he isn’t a volume scorer, has been the defensive stalwart Ryan has needed to accomplish such a two-year run of success. He describes Josh as some who “never wavered when paired up with the opposing team’s top scorer.” However like all the other Badgers, Gasser was barely noticed out of high school, and he had his eyes set on Wisconsin ever since he was a little kid, but the shooting guard didn’t hear from the Badger’s coaching staff until his senior season at Port Washington. Duje Dukan was a kid who grew up surrounded by some of the very best basketball players ever, like Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen, because his dad was the head international scout for the Chicago Bulls. He sat out his first few seasons in Madison while Ryan developed his skills to perfection.
While all of the essential players above were undervalued prep players, three of the Badgers were rather hot commodities on the recruiting circuit, although only two of them were really deciding whether or not they wanted to play for Coach Ryan. Dekker was a five star and Wisconsin high school legend in the state out of Sheboygan, and he committed to the Wisconsin program during his sophomore year, eliminating the possibility of all major blue blood programs from snatching up the talented wing.
Being a three star point guard prospect, Bronson Koenig wasn’t expected to garner much national recruiting attention, boy did he ever. Roy Williams made multiple trips up to La Crosse to see Koenig, and spent days upon days of energy trying to convince the Native American star to play for him down south. Duke and Kansas also made short-lived runs at him, but Koenig wanted to stay home, where all his tribe members needed him as role models for success in school and life.
Finally, Nigel Hayes was quite the case for Wisconsin. Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, Hayes was a big Ohio State fan growing up. A four star prospect, Hayes was expecting a call and scholarship from the Buckeyes during his entire four year high school career, yet they didn’t notice the stud stretch forward. Ryan certainly did, making trip after trip to Toledo to see his dream player. Thad Matta finally came calling to see Hayes, but by that time it was too late. Hayes was going to attend Wisconsin, where he was wanted.
As stated above, the Badgers aren’t regarded as one of top basketball programs, often being out shadowed by the celebrated football team, and this is the year to shine.
The Badgers can finally break out of their shell, and show the entire country that a team can under recruit and have a veteran squad win a national championship.
If you are a fan of the ultimate underdog in a group of powerhouses, the Badgers can be the team you root for.
*Section Photo credit to Jamie Squire, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to USA Today Sports