Prior to the start of the 2021-22 college basketball season, there were very low expectations for the Wisconsin Badgers — they lost their two leading scorers in D’Mitrik Trice and Micah Potter returned only 3 players from the previous season who played significant minutes.
Needless to say, nobody knew how this new-look team would play as a whole. Very few pre-season projections had the Badgers finishing better than ninth in the Big Ten. With other programs in the Big Ten having sky-high expectations such as Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan, it seemed as if the Badgers would be left in the dust in a conference jam-packed with talent.
The critics were quieted quickly as it didn’t take long for Wisconsin to find its groove. Despite the low expectations, the Badgers started the season on fire, with an 8-1 record through their first nine games.
The offense was a main point of concern in the preseason, but that was put to rest early. Sophomore guard Johnny Davis began his emergence to stardom, scoring 15 plus points in six of the first nine games.
Davis truly proved himself as an elite talent in the fifth game of the season against No. 12 ranked Houston —one of the best defensive teams in the country. He scored a game-high 30 points, going 10-18 from the field and 4-7 from three-point range and led the Badgers to a 65-63 victory.
Following this effort with impressive wins over St. Mary’s, Marquette and Indiana, Wisconsin began to prove that they weren’t the team many had expected them to be. The result was a ranking in the AP poll as the No. 23 team in the country.
A few weeks later, the Badgers got set to face off against the No. 3 team in the country — Purdue.
This was their first game against a top-10 opponent and would show whether or not this hot start was all smoke and mirrors. Squaring off against a team loaded with talent featuring explosive guard Jaden Ivey and 7-foot-4-inch center Zach Edey, it was unclear how the Badgers would match up.
In arguably the most exciting game of the season, Wisconsin took the victory by a score of 74-69 thanks to the performance of a lifetime from Davis. He scored a season-high 37 points and 14 rebounds against one of the top teams in the country.
Following this performance, Davis solidified himself as a top candidate for the Wooden Award, the national player of the year in college basketball. With a progression that nobody expected, Davis blossomed from a sixth man in 2021 to one of the superstars of college basketball.
Continuing this momentum with key wins over conference opponents such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana again, the Badgers found themselves in the race for the Big Ten conference title.
With a record of 24-5 and ranked as the No. 10 team in the country, Wisconsin was set to face No. 8 Purdue in a rematch with conference title implications. A win for UW would clinch a share of the Big Ten title for the second time in three years.
In an incredibly close game, the score sat at 67-67 with just nine seconds remaining. After Ivey hit a three-pointer to tie the game, the Badgers would get the final possession. All they needed was one shot to win the game. True freshman point guard Chucky Hepburn swiftly took the ball across halfcourt, dribbled to the left-wing, took a step back behind the three-point arc and let one fly.
Off the backboard and in, Hepburn sprinted down the court in celebration with just 1.2 seconds remaining. Hepburn showed constant improvement throughout the entire season and was a first-team All-Freshman in the Big Ten.
His consistency as a ball-handler and lack of turnovers while constantly making plays were crucial to the Badgers’ success. And in this moment in time, Hepburn hit the biggest shot of his life to seal a share of the Big Ten championship and lead Wisconsin to their second victory over Purdue in the season.
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Wisconsin earned a No. 3 seed in the National Tournament, winning the first round against Colgate but ending their season in a disappointing fashion to the 11-seeded Iowa State in the Round of 32.
With Hepburn going down late in the first half to an ankle injury, the team failed to find their groove for the rest of the game. Even though the season concluded with a heartbreaking loss, the Badgers still defied all odds and expectations for the year.
Davis showed that he’s a star, averaging over 19 points and 8 rebounds per game on the season. He’s now being projected as a top-10 pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Deciding to return for one final season, fifth-year guard Brad Davison left it all on the floor every single game. He could frequently be seen diving for loose balls and taking hard fouls, playing with a high level of intensity in every situation.
This hustle and leadership bled through the entire program and the Badgers began to play with a chip on their shoulder. They proved to be a tough and gritty team who played hard every single game and never let their opponent take the game out of reach. Davison finished the season averaging 14 points and four rebounds per game while becoming UW’s all-time 3-point leader, leaving a long-lasting mark on the Wisconsin program.
Junior forward Tyler Wahl also played incredibly well throughout the season, averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game and providing the Badgers with a scoring presence down low. He was arguably the most consistent player on the team, finishing the season shooting over 51% from the floor. Wahl and Davison provided Wisconsin with the necessary leadership to bring this new cast of characters together. Without them, the Badgers wouldn’t have ever made it as far as they did.
Despite a disappointing end to the season, it’s hard to believe any Wisconsin fan could be upset with how the season went considering the preseason expectations. They defied all the critics and won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
Davis became a college basketball superstar, Davison led the charge in his final season and Hepburn solidified himself as Wisconsin’s point guard of the future. The Badgers cleaned up the conference awards, with Greg Gard winning Big Ten Coach of the Year, Davis taking Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-Conference and Davison being selected to second-team
All-Conference. As a whole, the Badgers played their hearts out and exceeded what was expected of them. It’s safe to say that this team has nothing to regret after what was a truly incredible season.