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Friday, February 23, 2024
Badgers ride season full of highs and lows

Jon Leuer: Junior forward Jon Leuer celebrates with fans on the Kohl Center floor after the Badgers defeat Duke in December. The victory went down as not only one of the greatest this season, but in program history.

Badgers ride season full of highs and lows

Sometimes measuring success is not that simple.

Should one congratulate a team that captured the national spotlight with a marquee victory, largely overcame an injury to one of its most important pieces and once again defied modest expectations set by pundits before the season and finished near the top of its conference?

Or should one feel disappointment by a squad that, despite a successful regular season, once again flamed out in the postseason with two extremely frustrating losses in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAAs?

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These are the questions that players, coaches and fans asked themselves after the Wisconsin men's basketball team wrapped up its season just over a month ago with an 18-point loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 12 seed Cornell.

The highlights of the season began early, with the Badgers winning two of their three contests in the prestigious Maui

Invitational, including a 78-69 win over eventual NCAA participant Maryland.

Perhaps the most exciting moment of the season came about a week later when Wisconsin knocked off then-No. 5 and eventual national champion Duke.

Wisconsin then further impressed by soaring to a 13-5 Big Ten record, even with junior forward Jon Leuer missing nine games because of a wrist injury. Standout in-conference wins included home victories against then- No. 4 Purdue and then-No. 5 Michigan State.

A convincing road victory over Illinois in the regular season finale seemed to set the Badgers up for potentially deep runs in both the conference and NCAA Tournaments.

But just five days after Badgers' 15-point win in Champaign, the Illini eliminated Wisconsin from the Big Ten Tournament in their first game. Senior guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, who had carried the Badgers at times throughout the regular season, combined for a meager 5-for-26 shooting performance.

Despite the disappointment it suffered in the conference tournament, Wisconsin had a chance to right the ship in the NCAA Tournament. With a lofty No. 4 seed, the Badgers could qualify for the Sweet 16 with two wins over lower-seeded squads.

But the Badgers did not fare much better in the NCAA Tournament. First, against No. 13 Wofford, Wisconsin struggled in the second half and needed a game-winning shot from Leuer in the final moments to narrowly avoid a major upset.

The Badgers would not be fortunate enough to play in another tight contest, as No. 12 Cornell dominated the second-round contest from the get-go and coasted to a double-digit win to knock the Badgers out of the postseason.

What to make of a season like this one is a difficult proposition. Many point to the win over Duke, a high finish in the conference and another Bo Ryan squad exceeding expectations as signs of a quality season.

Yet some cannot help but feel empty after Wisconsin once again struggled so mightily in the postseason. The Badgers faced three unranked teams in the postseason and only came out on top once. When the Badgers needed their senior guards most, the same two who had done so much for UW over the years, Hughes and Bohannon came up empty.

Whether one wants to call the year a success or a failure, there is no argument that the 2009-'10 season for Wisconsin was defined by regular-season highs and postseason lows. And another safe bet, for anyone who has followed Wisconsin over the past several years, is that the Badgers will be prepared for any challenges they might face in 2010-'11.

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