Women’s Hockey: Badgers once again strong contenders for non-defunct Frozen Four
Success is not a new phenomena for the Wisconsin women’s hockey team. After bringing the NCAA Championship trophy back to Madison in 2019, their 2020 campaign seemed to be emulating much of what they accomplished the previous year. Competition at the height of NCAA women’s hockey is always stiff, so a solid regular season certainly does not mean that the Badgers were favorites to capture consecutive titles.
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Even if their championship hopes were anything but guaranteed, few people would have been able to guess that they would not be given the chance to compete for one in the first place.
The Badgers got out to a hot start late in 2019. They managed to win their first 10 games straight including a sweep of The Ohio State University, who later, in the last game the Badgers played all season, defeated them to earn the 2020 WCHA title. The Badgers showed great promise early, especially with rampant offensive contributions from Daryl Watts, Sophie Shirley and Abby Roque — this group would drive the bulk of production all season long.
Watts was a key acquisition for the Badgers during the offseason, as the loss of redshirt senior Annie Pankowski following the 2019 campaign left a void in both offensive production and team leadership that needed to be filled.
Watts led the team with an astounding 49 assists on the season, as well as 74 total points. On top of this, she netted a third-best goal total of 25. It’s difficult to comment on what specific role Watts played for the team itself in her opening season with the Badgers, but it’s clear to see that she became a crucial offensive addition necessary to replace that of Annie Pankowski.
Even as the Badgers began to struggle against top opponents late in the season — they suffered multiple losses to Ohio State as well as significant upset losses to Minnesota State and Bemidji State — their chances remained strong heading into postseason play.
Despite the cancellation of the NCAA tournament and their late season losses, the Badgers still managed to end the season ranked No. 2 overall, behind only Cornell. That’s right, they finished just one spot away from having a legitimate case that they are consecutive national champions.
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Every team wants the chance to defend their title, and this situation is sub-optimal by virtually everyone’s standards. Yet, there is a silver lining to the season that could have been in 2020. Much like Tiger Woods being able to call himself the reigning Masters champion, so too can the Badgers hold on to their title as reigning national champions for yet another season.
It is certainly an unprecedented situation, but when you see the Badgers step out onto the ice later in 2020, it will be as reigning national champions for the second straight year. With offensive titans Daryl Watts and Sophie Shirley returning alongside rising talents such as Britta Curl and Brette Pettet, there’s little reason to believe they don’t stand a solid chance to make it three years in a row.
Men’s Basketball: Mid-season funk, loss of Kobe King give way to historic run to Big Ten title
On Jan. 29, 2020, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team and Head Coach Greg Gard were searching for answers on ways to salvage a season that had plateaued into mediocrity.
Sitting at 12-9 with a 5-5 conference record, the Badgers were coming off losses both on and off the court. On top of blowing a chance for a key road win against No. 19 Iowa, the Badgers were faced with replacing sophomore guard Kobe King, who shockingly announced that he would be leaving the program.
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With a home game against Michigan State looming, Wisconsin’s NCAA Tournament hopes seemed to be dwindling. What followed over the next ten games was one of the most impressive stretches in the program’s storied history.
After grinding out a narrow 64–63 win against the Spartans, the Badgers hit a roadblock against rival Minnesota — falling 52–70 at Williams Arena. Following the ugly Minnesota loss, the Badgers were absolutely perfect as they went on to win all eight of their remaining games on the season. This feat propelled them to a share of the Big Ten conference title for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.
Over that eight-game stretch, Wisconsin defeated four teams projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The Badgers increased their efficiency offensively and averaged 71.8 points per game over that stretch — close to seven more points per game over their first 24 games.
Though King’s departure raised questions as to who would replace his double-digit scoring average, Wisconsin used a team effort to fill the void. After King’s decision to move on, five Badger players — Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Aleem Ford and D’mitrik Trice — averaged at least 10 points per game. Wisconsin’s offensive attack epitomized balance and made it difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for five different scoring options.
The balanced Badger scoring attack was particularly apparent in Wisconsin’s season finale matchup against Indiana. With the Big Ten regular-season championship on the line, four Badgers scored in double figures and the team was led by Reuvers’ 17 points.
In an instant classic, Wisconsin came out victorious, escaping Assembly Hall with a narrow 60–56 win and a share of the Big Ten championship.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended Wisconsin’s season and their chance to compete in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, Badger fans should be optimistic about next year’s 2020-2021 season. The Badgers return seven of their eight key rotation players, including six players that have started at least one game.
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Along with a veteran presence, the Badgers also add a Top-25 recruiting class which will provide talent and energy to a seasoned Wisconsin team. With both experience and talent, fans should set expectations high for the program in the 2020-2021 season.
Football: Badgers bounce back to form after down 2018 season, return to Rose Bowl for first time since 2013
For the Badgers, the 2018 football season was one most would like to forget. In the first Associated Press Preseason Poll, the Badgers were ranked No. 4 in the nation behind Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.
While this created plenty of hype heading into the season, their loss at home to Brigham Young University halted these championship aspirations just three weeks into the season. The Badgers continued down a bumpy road for the remainder of the season, finishing with an 8-5 record before ending the season on a high note with a blowout win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Heading into the 2019 season, the Badgers wanted redemption, vying for a return to a New Year’s Six Bowl game. The team also wanted to prove themselves as a contender to those who doubted them, like ESPN, who gave the Badgers a 1.4% chance to win the Big Ten.
After finishing the regular season 10-2 and getting second place in the Big Ten, bowl projections for the team included the Citrus Bowl, Rose Bowl and Gator Bowl. While these were all great options for the Badgers, the team had their eyes on Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl.
The Badgers, ranked No. 8 in the country, were selected to the Rose Bowl to play the Oregon Ducks, who were ranked No. 6 at the time. This was the first Rose Bowl selection for the Badgers since 2013, when they lost to Stanford 20–14.
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The game began with a 75-yard drive from the Ducks which resulted in a touchdown, followed shortly thereafter by an electric 75-yard kick return from sophomore Aron Cruickshank to put the Badgers even with the Ducks.
Through the first 30 minutes of play, the two teams played each other pretty evenly and went into halftime with the Badgers feeling hopeful, leading 17–14.
The third quarter began with an unimpressive drive from the Badgers, but things got ugly when punter Anthony Lotti fumbled a snap on the 40-yard line and Oregon returned it for a touchdown, putting them up 21–17 and significantly shifting momentum their way.
Following this mishap, the Badgers put together an impressive 65-yard drive which resulted in a touchdown, giving Wisconsin a 24–21 lead at the end of three quarters.
Wisconsin added three points on a 27-yard field goal from Collin Larsh early into the fourth quarter to increase the Badgers’ lead to six. Oregon got the ball back after a fumble midway through the final quarter from Danny Davis III, giving the Ducks the ball on their own 30-yard line.
On their first play of the drive, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert ran the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, followed by an extra point from sophomore kicker Camden Lewis to put the Ducks up 28–27 with just over seven minutes left in the game.
Unfortunately, the Badgers could not get anything going with the time remaining, and Oregon went on to win the Rose Bowl, handing Wisconsin their fourth consecutive Rose Bowl loss.
In 2020, the Badgers will be out for revenge as they try to at least make a return to Pasadena to win the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000.
Football: Four Badgers taken in 2020 NFL Draft, joining long list of Wisconsin alumni in NFL
After a bounce-back season in 2019, the University of Wisconsin football team had several Badgers taken during the 2020 NFL Draft in late April, moving on from successful college careers to hopefully successful professional careers.
In terms of Badgers, the 2020 NFL Draft was headlined by Jonathan Taylor, who was taken with the No. 41 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts. Taylor, who had a dominant college career that saw him break the record for most total rushing yards across his first three years, will likely split time with Marlon Mack in Indy before taking over in 2021.
In addition to Taylor, linebacker Zack Baun (No. 74 overall pick by the New Orleans Saints), offensive lineman Tyler Biadasz (No. 146 overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys) and wide receiver Quintez Cephus (No. 166 overall pick by the Detroit Lions) all heard their names called during the three-day event.
Linebacker Chris Orr also announced just minutes after the conclusion of the draft that he would be signing with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent, guaranteeing at least five new Badgers will be joining former Badgers already in the NFL, including the Watt brothers, Melvin Gordon, Russell Wilson, Joe Schobert and more.
While Taylor, Baun and Biadasz all fell a little bit lower in the draft than many expected, the draft as a whole can still be declared a success for the Badgers, as it marked the 13th consecutive draft with at least two Badgers selected and the third consecutive draft with at least four Badgers selected.
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With the selection of Baun, the Badgers have also had at least one linebacker selected in each of the last five drafts, dating back to 2016. That list includes Schobert, T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy, Leon Jacobs, Ryan Connelly, Andrew Van Ginkel and Baun.
Similarly, Taylor’s selection adds his name to an impressive group of former Badger running backs taken in the draft, including Gordon, James White, Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale.
The 2020 NFL Draft can be declared a success for Badger players and fans alike, and it should leave Badger fans excited for both the college football and NFL football seasons this fall.