The back nine? Couldn't be sweeter. Seven wins in nine games later, the Badgers enter the clubhouse and can proudly sign the scorecard, knowing it reflects a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, no small feat considering how improved the conference became from top to bottom.
"We knew we had the talent and we knew we had the players we needed to turn this thing around and win some ball games," senior forward Joe Krabbenhoft said. "It was just a matter of time. Now, look what's happened. We fought through a lot, and I'm just proud of this team."
But the job isn't quite done yet, and the Badgers know it. A NCAA tournament has become a frisky possibility, but certainly not a foregone conclusion. A quarterfinal victory over fifth-seeded Ohio State – who in the season's only meeting, pushed the Badgers to the brink in their own house with GameDay in town – would push Wisconsin clearly over the hump.
Friday's matchup with OSU should be a good one, especially since both teams won Sunday games to earn that first-round bye and will get an extra day off, avoiding the alternative of a Thursday game that was very possible for both Wisconsin and Ohio State when the weekend began.
"We have seen them once, so it gives us a chance to go back and look at some film and see the things that we've done in the previous games so we don't make those mistakes again," UW senior forward Marcus Landry said. "Their record may not show how they can be, but they're a very dangerous team. We just have to bring our A-game and be prepared."
Make no mistake, though, Wisconsin would not just be content with simply a one-and-done effort in Indianapolis. The way the Badgers are playing since the calendar flipped to February, there's no reason to believe UW can't go and defend its tournament crown to sweeten up a "meh" regular season.
"I think our guys have stayed hungry," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "We can't win the regular season any more, that one's over. But you've got to play hard and smart for three days, we've been able to avoid the first day's action since we've been here. We've been fortunate that way because we took care of business during the regular season … it's good for our guys."
Certainly the Badgers are relieved to have gotten Thursday off, because it makes the grueling weekend a little easier. Of course, Wisconsin is hoping to make it a grueling weekend to begin with.
"This is the right time of year you want to be playing your best," Krabbenhoft said. "I don't think we played our best today, I think it's still ahead of us. That's a good thing, and a scary thing for everybody else."
Good news for Badger fans - especially those who are also basketball fans in general – is win or lose, the four-day event in Indianapolis figures to be a dandy, with all the parity showing up at Conseco Field House giving eight or nine teams a legitimate shot at the tournament crown.
"The Big Ten has come a long way from where it was, with the down years," Landry said. "We're going to go to the tournament with teams like us that lost six or seven games, so what you saw during the regular season is what you're going to see in the Big Ten tournament."
Big Ten Tournament Schedule (all times Central)
Thursday, March 12
No. 8 Minnesota vs. No. 9 Northwestern, 11 am, Big Ten Network
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Iowa, 1:30 pm, ESPN2
No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 11 Indiana, 4 pm, ESPN2
Friday, March 13
No. 1 Michigan State vs. Minnesota-Northwestern winner, 11 am, ESPN
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Ohio State, 1:30 pm, ESPN
No. 2 Illinois vs. Michigan-Iowa winner, 5:30 pm, Big Ten Network
No. 3 Purdue vs. Penn State-Indiana winner, 8 pm, Big Ten Network
Saturday, March 14
Semifinals, 12:40 pm and 3:05 pm, CBS
Sunday, March 15
Big Ten Championship Game, 2:30 pm, CBS