The Wisconsin Badgers have been playing exceptional basketball lately, and they’ve shown no signs of stopping.
The Badgers look to extend their six-game winning streak this Friday against a struggling Florida A&M Panthers team (2-9) before starting Big Ten play next week.
Teams in the Big Ten have started out well in non-conference play so far this year, with 10 of the 12 teams owning eight wins or more, and seven of the 12 teams having no more than two losses. Three Big Ten teams hold spots in the Associated Press Top 25 poll (Wisconsin at 14, Purdue at 15, Indiana at 16), and teams like Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers each have only one loss on their resume. The top of the conference is crowded, and a lot of shakeup will occur in the coming weeks.
Badger players are certainly aware of the challenges ahead in the Big Ten.
“After Rutgers…we go to Indiana and Purdue,” said freshman D’Mitrik Trice, “so I know those two games are going to be tough.”
Sophomore Khalil Iverson agreed, saying that Indiana (1/3) and Purdue (1/8) will be tough matchups for the Badgers.
However, Wisconsin has been quite impressive in their six-game winning streak. The Badgers have held a plus-23 point differential during their streak, defeating teams like Syracuse by 17, Oklahoma by 20, and Marquette by nine.
Big Ten Player of the Year Candidate Nigel Hayes, who struggled through the first few games of the year, seems to have found his rhythm over the last six games. He’s averaging 17.6 points per game, including two games in which he went over 20 points. Additionally, he has been incredibly efficient during the winning streak, successfully making 57% of his field goals. He has been the key cog in this team’s success, and it will be important for him to keep up his impressive play heading into the toughest tasks of the year for the Badgers.
While Hayes has been a force for the Badgers this season, the consistency of sophomore big man Ethan Happ has been a much-needed asset for the team. Averaging 13.3 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game (both increased from last year) Happ has become a dependable force each and every game for the Badgers. If he keeps playing this way, he could see All-Big Ten honors at the end of the season.
While Wisconsin may enter next week at an impressive 11-2, it will still feel a bit hollow as they have yet to play any conference games. The Badgers will start Big Ten play at home against Rutgers before facing tough road tests against top teams like Purdue and Indiana. These will be some of the biggest tests of the year thus far for the Badgers, who have been graced with some fairly easy games as of late. But if the Badgers have shown us anything so far, it’s that they are ready for the challenge that lies ahead.
“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job so far,” said Badgers’ leading scorer Bronson Koenig. “If we play our game, then we’re really good. If we get away from that, then we’re not as good.”