1) Big nonconference wins
It has been a season of highs and lows for Wisconsin, marked by the ecstasy of big wins and the stinging pain of unexpected defeat. The Badgers began their 2013-’14 campaign on a steep upward trajectory, beating then-No. 11 Florida in just the third game of the season.
The Gators were admittedly missing five key players, including this year’s SEC Player of the Year, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin and SEC Sixth Man of the Year, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith.
Next the Badgers took down a quality Virginia team, giving head coach Bo Ryan his 300th win at Wisconsin, becoming just the ninth Big Ten coach to reach the milestone.
2) Best start in program history
Two months of perfect basketball for Wisconsin culminated in a rout of Illinois Jan. 8, giving this year’s squad sole ownership of the best start in school history, 16 straight wins.
Highlighting the season-opening streak was a Championship at the Cancun Challenge after victories over St. Louis and West Virginia. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker was also named Tournament MVP, while junior guard Traevon Jackson made the All-Tournament Team.
Over that span, the Badgers beat three Associated Press Top 25 teams, including Illinois, Florida and Iowa.
3) Free fallin'
“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.”
Tom Cruise might as well have been talking about the 2013-’14 Badgers in “Cocktail.”
After a spectacular 16-0 start Wisconsin went belly-up in mid-January, losing five of six games over a two-week span, including two home losses to Michigan and Northwestern.
Cold shooting doomed the Badgers, who shot 0.413 in their skid compared to 0.459 on the season.
Wisconsin’s silver lining came in the form of freshman forward Nigel Hayes, who had breakout games off the bench against Minnesota and Ohio State.
4) Picking up the pieces
As quickly as the January blues set in for Wisconsin, they were over just as fast. A convincing win over Illinois was all it took for the Badgers to regain momentum before going on another eight-game win streak.
In the process UW took down three more AP Top 25 teams, including then-No. 8 Michigan State and then-No. 15 teams Michigan and Iowa.
In a microcosm of the second half of the season Wisconsin fought back from a 29-19 halftime deficit against Indiana, eventually winning the game 69-58 to exact revenge on the Hoosier team that handed the Badgers their first loss of the year.
5) A tournament for the ages
After losing in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to then-No. 3 seed Michigan State, No. 2 seed Wisconsin started its tournament run in high fashion with a 75-35 rout of No. 15 seed American, setting a school record for the largest margin of victory in an NCAA game.
From there it was off to the races, with cruise-control victories over Oregon and Baylor before emerging victorious from an overtime thriller against No. 1 seed Arizona.
The victory propelled the Badgers to their first Final Four appearance in 14 years, and the first in head coach Bo Ryan’s already illustrious career.