The leaves start to fall off trees, winter clothing makes its way out of its summer hibernation and while the college football season is underway, the college basketball season begins to seep its way into conversations in college towns all over the country as it slowly approaches.
Wednesday marked the first day of practice for the University of Wisconsin men’s and women’s basketball teams. On the women’s side, new faces and a vicious hunger will try to propel the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011. Including four starters, the men return 75% of the minutes played from 2019-20 with the hopes of competing for a national championship as the No. 6 team in the country, according to NCAA.com’s power rankings.
The women’s team experienced a mildly disappointing 2020 regular season, going 12-19 after finishing 2019 with a 15-18 record. A strong Big Ten Tournament showing has the team excited to break through the glass ceiling and reach playoff action for the first time under Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis.
“Our goal is being able to play in the postseason,” Tsipis said. “We have 42 days to get the first opportunity [to play].”
Tsipis raved about the progression and mentality of junior forward Imani Lewis. Lewis averaged nearly 15 points and nine rebounds per game en route to an appearance on the 2020 All-Big Ten Second Team. Since the team has no seniors who had meaningful playing time last season, Lewis is primed to lead this team through both her play and through her preparation.
“The main thing that excites me is that we’re a family,” Lewis said. “We’re coming into every practice ready to attack the day.”
This kind of mentality and focus — along with the addition of Stanford grad-transfer Estella Moschkau and five freshmen — will go a long way in determining how Tsipis’ team will fare against a stacked Big Ten in 2020-21.
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The men’s team faces a completely different set of challenges. After winning eight straight to end the 2020 regular season and clinch a share of the regular-season Big Ten title, the team is hungrier than ever to fight for their one shining moment. Despite the late-season success the team was unable to capitalize on due to COVID-19 ahead of the NCAA Tournament, Head Coach Greg Gard emphasized the team will have to earn their chance all over again in 2021.
“We aren’t going to teleport back to March 7 and be that team,” Gard said. “We have to start over. The only thing we know is that Nov. 25 is the first day we can officially play … the journey starts over.”
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The Badgers bring back 11 players from last season’s team, adding five freshmen with tons of leadership to learn from throughout the season. Starting guards D’mitrik Trice and Brad Davison are among the returning 11, providing the men’s squad with tournament experience.
“We have to start this season like it’s a fresh one,” Trice said. “We have to come out and be hungry from the start.”
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When asked about the upcoming season’s expectations, senior Davison — the de facto spiritual leader of this Badger team —bluntly that the team has the “same goals.”
Expect both Badger basketball teams to compete to reach new respective heights for the programs. Both teams are expected to tip off the season Nov. 25, though neither women’s nor men’s schedules have been released.