The wait is almost over. The Badgers kick off their season on Friday night against Central Arkansas, meaning it’s officially time to talk some basketball. We will break down the key games from Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule.
November 15th: @#22 Creighton
It won’t take long for the Badgers to play their first tough opponent with a top-25 duel against Creighton in the team’s second game.
The two teams played in 2012, back when Doug McDermott was one of the most prolific scorers in the country. The Badgers will look to avenge that double-digit loss from 2012 in 2016.
Last year, Creighton only finished in the middle of the pack in the Big East. Missing out on the NCAA tournament, they lost in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
Despite Creighton’s lack of success in the 2015-16 season, they are ranked in the top-25 because they bring back a few key members back from last year’s team, who beat ranked teams such as Butler and Xavier.
Creighton brings back Maurice Watson Jr., their leading scorer and passer. Watson Jr. averaged 14.1 PPG and 6.5 APG. The Blue Jays’ point guard will be a formidable test early on for Bronson Koenig.
Helping Watson are three returning starters. Senior forward Cole Huff averaged 11.3 PPG and 5.1 RPG as a junior. Isaiah Zierden averaged 10.2 PPG and 2.2 APG, a number good enough for second on the team in assists. Khyri Thomas, the third returner, has received some preseason buzz for his improvement over the offseason.
Creighton scored at a rapid pace last year, ranking 28th in the nation in scoring at 79.6 PPG. With key scorers and passers coming back, Creighton figures to improve on that side of the ball even more.
November 21st: Tennessee
The Badgers tip off the Maui Invitational against the Tennessee Volunteers. Former Texas head coach Rick Barnes will be starting his second year at Tennessee.
Of Tennessee’s 13 roster spots, 10 are filled by freshman or sophomores. Tennessee isn’t predicted to have an amazing season because of their youth, but the Volunteers roster features some former top recruits that could beat anyone on any given night.
Tennessee’s roster has four former 4-star freshman according to ESPN: Lamonte Turner, Jalen Johnson, Grant Williams, and Kwe Parker.
The Vols lost their leading scorer Kevin Punter, who was one of the best scorers in all of college basketball at 22.3 PPG. Robert Hubbs III is back for the Volunteers, who will be the de facto leader of all that talented youth. Hubbs III averaged 10.6 PPG in his junior year.
November 29th: #19 Syracuse
In a rematch of last year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge game, the Badgers and the Orange will play for a consecutive year, this time in Madison. The Badgers shook off their early season woes last season with a win in the Carrier Dome, 66-58. Last year, the Badgers were the underdog against #14 Syracuse, and those roles will be flip flopped this year.
For Syracuse, they lost a few key members from the squad last year who helped make their Cinderella run to the Final Four as a #10 seed. Their three leading scorers from the 2015-16 campaign are gone, in the form of Michael Gbinije, tournament hero Malachi Richardson, and Trevor Cooney.
The Orange will be a good test for the Badgers frontcourt with the Orange returning some key big men from last year.
Stepping up will be sophomore forward Tyler Lydon, who averaged 10.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG as a freshman. As of this moment, although there is a lot of basketball to be played yet (aka all of it), Lydon is a borderline lottery pick for the 2017 NBA Draft.
Senior forward Tyler Roberson also returns for the Orange, averaging 8 PPG and 8 RPG as a junior. DaJuan Coleman, a former McDonald’s All-American, is a bowling ball at 6-8 260 pounds.
Syracuse added depth with three top-100 recruits according to ESPN’s rankings in Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson, and Michael Moyer.
Additionally, the Orange added Nebraska transfer Andrew White, who is familiar with the Badgers from a few Big Ten games. White is supposed to start for the Orange. He was the best player on Nebraska’s roster, and is one of the best on Syracuse’s as well.
Syracuse is the highest ranked team the Badgers are scheduled to play in the non-conference season.
December 3rd: Oklahoma
Another rematch from last year’s campaign (and just days following Syracuse), the Badgers get the Sooners at home this time around. The Badgers got demolished by Buddy Hield and company, but Buddy Hield and two other starters are gone.
Jordan Woodard, who averaged 13 PPG and 3.4 APG last year, will have to step up if the Sooners are going to replicate last years success. Woodard will be another test for Koenig and the rest of the backcourt.
Khadeem Latin, the other returning starter, only averaged 5.6 PPG and 5.8 RPG last year as a sophomore, but figures to have an increased role, especially in the paint. He was a force on the defensive end averaging over two blocks per game.
The Sooners added a top-40 recruit in the form of wing Kameron McGusty.
December 10th: at Marquette
The Badgers only true non-conference rival is always a big game, even though it may be bigger for Marquette fans than it is for Badger fans. Either way, this year, the Badgers are looking for some revenge after a two point loss in 2015, 57-55.
Henry Ellenson, a top freshman from last year, was drafted in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft in July. Sam Hauser from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is their prize from the 2015-16 recruiting cycle, and he’s figured to play right away for Marquette.
Otherwise, the Golen Eagles bring back three returning starters. Guards Haanif Cheatham aveaged nearly 12 PPG as a freshman, while Jajuan Johnson averaged 10.2 PPG as a junior. Big man Luke Fischer from Germantown, Wisconsin, averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.2 boards. Fischer’s 6’11” frame will be one of the tallest the Badgers play in the non-conference schedule, getting them ready for the likes of Indiana’s Thomas Bryant.
Bonus: Possible Maui Invitational opponents
Assuming the Badgers take care of business against Tennessee in the opening round, the Badgers could face Oregon in the next round. Oregon lost in the Elite 8, running into Buddy Hield on the wrong night.
Oregon is ranked 5th in the AP and Coaches poll for the 2016-17 season, even receiving a vote for the top spot in each poll.
The Ducks will feature one of, if not the most, explosive offenses in the nation. Dillon Brooks returns as one of the best players in the nation, averaging 16.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG as a sophomore.
If the Badgers manage to get passed Tennessee and Oregon, it sets up a potential championship game against North Carolina. North Carolina painfully lost the National Championship last year, but they also return a lot of talent. The Tar Heels are ranked 6th in both the AP and Coaches poll.
Although North Carolina lost Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, both huge departures, they still bring back a bunch of familiar names: Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks. The Tar Heels also brought in potential freshman phenom Seventh Woods.