Wisconsin basketball: Handing out team superlatives for the 2021-22 season
An entertaining season ended earlier than fans would’ve liked when No. 3 seed Wisconsin exited the NCAA Tournament with an ugly 54-49 loss to No. 11 seed Iowa State on Sunday night.
None of Wisconsin’s reserve players proved to be much of a threat throughout the season, and that became a major problem when Chucky Hepburn went down with an injury in the first half of Sunday’s 2nd-round matchup. The Badgers have played very poorly whenever a starter was out of the lineup with an injury, and the lack of depth came back to bite them yet again at the most crucial point of the season.
The Badgers were completely out of rhythm offensively without their starting point guard, making just 2-of-22 3-point attempts and committing a season-high 17 turnovers. It was a bad time to play their worst game of the year as Wisconsin failed to reach the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. The Badgers haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2017.
Wisconsin lost 3 of its final 4 games to close out its season, but the Badgers finished 25-8 and far exceeded anybody’s preseason expectations. Wisconsin had been projected to finish 10th in the B1G and be a fringe NCAA Tournament team at best, coming off a season where they fell way short of expectations with plenty of offseason controversy.
Instead, the Badgers won the Big Ten regular-season title for the 2nd time in 3 seasons and put themselves in position for an NCAA Tournament run. As unfair as it may be, college basketball teams are largely judged on what they do during March Madness, and in a single-elimination event, one bad game can end the season in heartbreaking fashion.
As we wrap up another entertaining season of Wisconsin basketball, let’s hand out a few awards.
Team MVP: Johnny Davis
There might not be a player more responsible for his team’s success this season than Johnny Davis, the B1G’s Player of the Year. He needed to step into the role of being Wisconsin’s go-to guy as the Badgers had to replace a ton of last season’s production. It became clear early on he made a dramatic leap in his game and developed into a college basketball superstar, guiding Wisconsin to win the Maui Invitational.
Johnny received first-team All-American honors and was one of the most entertaining players to watch in the sport. A year after coming off the bench and scoring 7 points per game, he went for 19.7 points per game this season and was a very good rebounder with 8.2 boards per game.
Some media folks said the Badgers are not even an NCAA Tournament team without Davis and while I disagree with that with the past 25 years of Wisconsin basketball as evidence, he put together an incredible sophomore season. Davis did not make any announcement on his future following Sunday’s loss, but if NBA mock drafts are to be believed, it’s hard to imagine seeing him with the Badgers next season.
Newcomer of the Year: Chucky Hepburn
The Badgers brought in 7 new players this season, and none came close to making a bigger impact than true freshman Chucky Hepburn. The progress he made from early in the season until the end was impressive, and he has an incredibly bright future running the offense for Wisconsin.
Prior to Sunday’s game, Hepburn turned the ball over twice in the previous 4 games averaging 33.5 minutes per game during that span. He also developed a 3-point shot and caught fire from deep down the stretch of the regular season.
In Wisconsin’s NCAA Tournament loss, it was evident how valuable Hepburn was to his team. According to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, the Badgers shot 8-of-17 from the floor with 6 turnovers with Hepburn on the floor. After his injury sidelined him the rest of the game, Wisconsin went 6-of-30 with 11 turnovers.
Win of the Year: Purdue
The height of Wisconsin’s season came on March 1 when the Badgers knocked off Purdue 70-67 to clinch a share of the B1G regular-season championship. Given the hype leading into the game and what was at stake, this was one of the more important games in the history of the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin found itself in plenty of close games this season and played very well late in crunch time. After Jaden Ivey nailed a game-tying 3-pointer, Hepburn quickly dribbled the ball down the floor and hit a 3 off the glass from the wing in the final seconds, and students flooded the court when the game ended.
Hepburn’s game-winning shot came 2 possessions after Davis banked in a deep 2-pointer from the top of the key. When you finish the season with a 15-3 record in games decided by 6 points or less, you’re bound to have some lucky moments, and they came at the right time that night.