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Will Wisconsin return to the Final Four?

The Wisconsin Badgers have consistently been one of the better programs in the Big 10 under head coach Bo Ryan, but prior to last season, the Badgers hadn’t been to the Final Four since 2000 under Dick Bennett. That was a surprise run to the Final Four, as Wisconsin went just 8-8 in conference that season.

The Badgers ended their Final Four drought last year after a stellar 12-6 conference record, riding breakout star Frank Kaminsky to the Final Four before falling just short of the title game thanks to a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky. If you remember, the Wildcats needed a three from Aaron Harrison in the final seconds to get past Wisconsin to advance to the title game.

But with Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson (who missed the potential game-winner against Kentucky) and others back this year, the Badgers were prepared for another deep run. And after running roughshod over most of its schedule despite an injury to Jackson that has kept him out since mid-January, Wisconsin is primed to return to the Final Four and finish the job this time around. The Badgers (31-3, 16-2 in the Big Ten) are fresh off a Big Ten Tournament title and are the No. 1 seed in the West Region.

Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY Sports

Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY Sports

Kaminsky has been brilliant in his senior season, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and putting himself in position to win National Player of the Year. The guy can score from anywhere on the floor, whether it’s shooting threes, taking players off the dribble or using his exquisite footwork in the post. He has been the most efficient player in college basketball this season, and he’s poised to be a lottery selection in the NBA draft.

Dekker has been as solid as ever, although his three-point shooting has been somewhat of a disappointment. But the three-point shooting has been picked up by the likes of Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser. Koenig is the best three-point shooter on the team at 41.5 percent (for those with high volume), but Hayes is right there at 40.3 percent. The improved play of Koenig and Hayes has been huge in light of the injury to Jackson, and Hayes’s versatility on both ends of the floor has him skyrocketing up draft boards.

Jackson could be back soon, even as soon as Wisconsin’s tournament opener against Coastal Carolina on Friday. That could make the Badgers even stronger, as long as Jackson can return to form quickly.

Teams like North Carolina and Arkansas could give Wisconsin some trouble in the West, but the biggest competition in the region is a familiar foe: the Arizona Wildcats. The Badgers and Wildcats squared off in last year’s Elite Eight, with Wisconsin pulling out a slim victory in overtime. If chalk holds, these two teams would again face-off in the Elite Eight in a matchup of efficient offense vs. dominant defense. The Badgers have the third-most efficient offense in the country, while the Wildcats have the fourth-best defense, per Sports-Reference.com.

If Wisconsin can get back to the Final Four, an even stronger Kentucky team than last year likely awaits them. But if there’s a team that can take down mighty Kentucky, Wisconsin is it. The Badgers have the third-best odds to win the national title this year at 9/1, behind just Kentucky and Duke.

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