Led by Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry, two seniors from different walks of life, the Badgers went 10-8 in conference and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2009, but were picked to finish as low as seventh this season, that six-game losing streak and failure to finish games still fresh in voter's minds.
It was fresh in Hughes' mind, as well.
"We were weak minded at times," Hughes said. "We didn't have a lot of experience with 11 freshmen and sophomores last year. We were lacking in that category. This year, we needed to be more consistent, hungrier, not be slacking and play as a team every play."
So the seniors did something about it, making sure not one ounce of time was wasted during the offseason. The duo made sure players were in the weight room, working on their skills in summer pick-up games, even going so far as to take a trip out Elver Hill to get some practice conditioning runs in before the season started.
Bohannon and Hughes pushed each other, too. Bohannon worked on becoming a better chase defender and playing sound defense. Hughes worked on making the smart play instead of the amazing play, and turned from a quiet starter into the team's vocal leader.
The results of the two can be seen on the court. Wisconsin is ranked No.15 in the Associated Press Poll, No.17 in the coaches' poll and has defeated three teams in the AP top 10 for just the fourth time in school history.
"What they did was take a national snub so to speak, for a team that wasn't supposed to do this, that or whatever, their leadership has helped propel, along with other things that have happened with other guys," UW Coach Bo Ryan said "I think they've done a great job of helping us get where we are. Hopefully they can take us a lot further."
While the Badgers need a lot of dominoes to fall their way to earn a share of the conference championship, Wisconsin (21-7, 11-5 Big Ten) will continue its march to a 12th straight NCAA birth Wednesday when it honors two seniors that have done so much for the program. Fittingly, it comes against Iowa (10-19, 4-12), Bohannon's home-state team.
A four-star shooting guard that was ranked sixth in the country by Scout, Bohannon was one of the best high school players to come out of Iowa in the past decade. With his father, Gordy, being a former Iowa quarterback, it was thought by most that Jason would follow in his father's footsteps.
But knowing assistant coach Gary Close since he was in seventh grade and after the Wisconsin assistant coach persuaded him to take a visit to Madison, Bohannon's recruiting views changed, thanks to Close, who didn't do anything different during the recruiting process other than be himself.
"He was a big part of me coming here," said Bohannon, who was the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year in 08. "He built that connection early. Our relationship started back then and it helped tremendously for my situation here now. He works with me to improve on the little things I am doing wrong and it's made a big difference."
The difference is easy to notice. He's scored 346 points this season – most of any season of his career – and ranked 25th on Wisconsin's all-time scoring list with 1,132 points. He is still a deep shooting threat (hitting a three-pointer in 25 games this season), but his defense and durability is what has been benefiting Wisconsin.
Playing in 36.4 minutes per game (a team-best and fifth-most in the league), Bohannon has notched a career high in blocks, points per game (12.4), rebounds (3.5), steals (25), assists (64) and his averaging under 1.3 turnovers per game.
"I think early on in his career, he was known as a three-point specialists, but he has come a long way defensively," assistant coach Howard Moore said. "You don't get a night off in this league, and he's done a great job in answering the challenge with all the different things coach asks him to do."
While Bohannon's progression was given a shove forward this year, his freshman roommate has steadily gotten better over time. Hughes, a 2010 Bob Cousy Award finalist, has taken the biggest part of the scoring burden left by Landry and Krabbenhoft on his shoulders. He's scored 20-plus points seven times this season, the seventh player in school history to score over 1,250 points and dish 250 steals and is 13th all-time on the scoring list.
More importantly, Hughes, along with Bohannon, came out of their shell to accept the leadership position.
"The two of them were pretty quiet last year for the most part," Ryan said. "Joe and Marcus in different ways as leaders did things. Now it was there turn, so they talked amongst themselves in the summer. Our guys were definitely stronger than they were last year. I thought they were in better shape when we started in September, and that has to come from somewhere, some place, and it isn't always seniors, but I think those two definitely have led the way."
Bohannon and Hughes have won 102 games in their career and need just four more victories to become the winningest tandem in program history. They've gone 63-6 (.913) at the Kohl Center. They won as role players on teams with Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor and the following year with Michael Flowers and Brian Butch. They won as being an integral part of the system with Landry and Krabbenhoft.
Now, they've won by leading the squad, and overcome losing second-leading scorer Jon Leuer for nine games to a broken wrist by going 6-3 in that stretch, including a win over No.5 Michigan State.
With Leuer back in the starting lineup on Thursday, the Badgers got double-digit scoring from each starter, proving that Wisconsin is just starting to find its groove.
"We have a very complete team right now," Bohannon said. "There are different guys and they all know their roles and they are all doing things really well. Anytime you have guys that all understand their role and all play together, you're going to do some good things."
Added Ryan: "I think they (Bohannon and Hughes) have seen some results, they want to see more, that's why it's tough on senior day talking where we are. With what they have contributed, I think they have more in them."
If the senior duo win their last six games, the results would truly be special.