The Badgers wrapped up a 19-12 season with a 94-75 loss to Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Wachovia Center here Friday afternoon. It was a painful conclusion to a dreadful end-of-season run. UW closed the 2005-06 season with a four-game losing streak and lost 10 of its last 15.
The silver lining, though, shines bright. Next season, all but one player will return: senior guard Ray Nixon. UW should bring back 92 percent of its scoring, 87 percent of its minutes and 93 percent of its rebounding.
Alando Tucker, the Big Ten's leading scorer this year, will be back. So, too, will be point guard Kammron Taylor, an honorable mention all-league choice. And UW should recoup the services of freshman Marcus Landry and sophomore Greg Stiemsma, who have been out since Jan. 18 due to academic ineligibility. With Landry and Stiemsma in tow the team was 14-2.
"What I always try to do is take positives from the negatives and I'm going to have to think pretty hard for a while to find the positive, but obviously one is we're coming back," freshman Joe Krabbenhoft said. "But that doesn't mean much until we work hard in the offseason and get back on the floor and prove that we've worked hard and prove we're back together as a team, we've gotten stronger, we've gotten better — all of that.
"There are a lot of people saying we're coming back. It doesn't mean anything until we prove it."
The Badgers entered 2005-06 with the 17th youngest team in the nation—seven freshmen, four sophomores and three juniors joining Nixon. Yet three weeks ago the Badgers were challenging for the Big Ten title. That was before they lost three of four, with all three defeats coming on the road. One-game stays at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments followed.
"Our guys are smart enough to realize that there are times in the year where the schedule can help you, or, if it's working against you, it can multiply," Ryan said. "That's exactly what happened with some of our guys mentally with their confidence at the end of the year."
Next season, the team's supporting cast will be older and, if all goes according to plan, improved from this season's experiences.
"You just have to mature physically and mentally," Ryan said. "A lot of these guys will come back next year better, hopefully all of them."
"The whole time during that second half that is all we talked about during the timeouts: we've got seven minutes to get better," Ryan said. "You are in a great environment here… Just try to milk every second that you can from NCAA Tournament play. Because you are getting ready for next. And hopefully these guys will take something from this and get better."