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Brazzoni: Badgers beginning to thrive with nothing to lose

first_imgAfter the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s thrilling 77-76 victory over Michigan State last weekend, there was a familiar feel in the postgame press conference.After both Spartans head coach Tom Izzo and UW interim head coach Greg Gard answered questions in the postgame press conference, three Badger players strolled in with an air of confidence, happiness and pride that they hadn’t been able to show for the majority of this disappointing season.Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — all of whom had just completed their most memorable performances of the season — sat behind the microphones with giant grins on their faces, realizing what they had just accomplished as they waited to be questioned.Happ was asked what his emotions were after hitting the game-winning layup and celebrating within a crowd of his teammates at half court.“Just pure joy, really,” Happ said.Pure joy. An emotion these Badgers had grown so used to last season after their historic run to the national championship game, but a feeling they have lacked in this 2015-16 season where they are off to just a 10-9 start.But now, that joy brings to light who these Badgers are, and it appears they are starting to figure that out as well. Last season, everyone was out to get the top-ranked Badgers, but this season, the tables have turned, and they are out to get everyone else.Expectations are now lower than they have ever been since Bo Ryan took over as head coach, and now, instead of accepting defeat and disappointment, they’re embracing their underdog status.This team is playing with nothing to lose.It started against one of the nation’s most talented teams in then-No. 3 Maryland Jan. 9. The Badgers hung with the Terrapins for nearly all 40 minutes until All-American guard Melo Trimble hit a game-winning three as the buzzer sounded. While moral victories don’t count for anything, the game showed the Badgers could compete.But just three days later, when the Badgers traveled to Northwestern, expectations dropped even lower again, as UW lost an ugly game to the Wildcats.No one believed in this team, as no one really had a reason to do so. They had lost three conference games in a row and four of their last five. It was the low point of an already poor start to the Big Ten season, and now, this team really had nothing to lose.Enter No. 4 Michigan State, a team led by one of the country’s best all-around players in Denzel Valentine, and a team that matches the Badgers’ size and overmatches their talent. But they were also a team with so much to prove after falling 76-59 to Iowa just three days prior.With nothing to lose, Wisconsin gave Michigan State, who had everything to lose, all they could handle, and in the end, more than they could handle. And those smiles, that confidence and that overall sense of joy came as a result.Men’s basketball: Happ’s game-winning layup pushes Wisconsin over No. 4 Michigan StateIt was another game for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team and another down-to-the-wire finish, and for the first time in Read…Now, with a road win at Penn State giving them two conference victories in a row and a 3-4 record in the Big Ten, the Badgers appear to be in a groove, and they’re looking to turn this season around, behind their nothing to lose mentality. This mentality puts all the pressure on their Big Ten opponents and leaves the Badgers at ease, knowing they have an opportunity to play spoiler.And those opportunities will not be few and far between as they hit the final stretch of the regular season. They still have games against Maryland, Iowa and Michigan State, all of which currently find themselves in the top 10 and will feel the pressure of defending their home courts against a now-dangerous Wisconsin team.With nothing to lose, it will allow preseason All-Big Ten players Koenig and Hayes to play to their best ability. It will allow for young players like Happ and freshman Alex Illikainen to develop in a year where they aren’t expected to contribute on a championship level.Simply put, expectations aren’t at the degree they were last season, and the team is starting to adapt to that and embrace who they are.Because while this year’s team may not have the talent or the resume of last year’s, the personality and culture of the program remains the same, and these Badgers are finding a way to enjoy themselves and look to be finding their stride at the perfect time.last_img

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