After the release of the Big Ten conference schedules, it’s clear that this year’s young Wisconsin Badgers team will have their work cut out for them
No team in the country lost more pieces than the Badgers did last season—Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown, and Bronson Koenig made up a senior class that won’t soon be forgotten around Madison, winning 13 NCAA tournament games, reaching the Sweet 16 all four years and going to back-to-back Final Fours as freshman and sophomores.
So, naturally, unless you’re a school such as Duke or Kentucky that reloads every year on 5-star recruits, it’s reasonable to assume that any team that lost as much as Wisconsin did would suffer a regression. However, part of what factors into the degree of regression falls on the schedule—let’s take a look at what the Badgers are up against this season.
Greg Gard was not joking when he said, “Our non-conference schedule this season will be as challenging as ever.” (quote courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal). Last season, the Badgers managed an 11-2 record in non-conference play, a very respectable effort considering the only losses came on the road at Creighton and to the would-be national champion North Carolina. This year may add a few more L’s in the loss column, but it will be good for the Badgers to be tested before heading into conference play.
The first big game comes on November 16th when the Xavier Musketeers travel to Madison. Xavier reached the Elite Eight last season without their best player in Edmond Sumner, who is now a member of the Indiana Pacers G-league team, and the Musketeers return star players Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. The Badgers certainly won’t be the favorite in this game, but the Kohl center will be nothing short of wild.
The Badgers then head to Kansas City for the Hall of Fame Classic, which consists of four teams—Wisconsin, Baylor, Creighton, and UCLA. The Badgers will take on the Bears in their first matchup and either Creighton or UCLA in the second matchup.
Wisconsin returns home for a contest against the ever-scrappy Milwaukee Panthers before heading to Virginia for the Big Ten/ACC challenge, a game that will be especially tough for a young Badgers squad—the Cavaliers were a defensive machine at the John Paul Jones Arena last season, giving up an average of 51.3 points per game.
After an early conference game against Ohio State, Wisconsin will spend a long week in Pennsylvania to take on Penn State and Temple before returning home to clash with in-state rivals Marquette. After slate of what should be winnable games in Western Kentucky, Green Bay, Chicago State, and UMASS Lowell, the Badgers are ready for the conference schedule.
Everything prior to the conference schedule was known—Gard knew the challenges his team was up against and the teams that stood in his way. As of Wednesday at 3:30 pm, the unknown conference schedule is now known, and what lies ahead is daunting—5 of the first 7 games are on the road, and though a few of those games are against lower-tier Big Ten teams, it’s never easy to win on the road in the Big Ten. After a pair of home games and a pair of away games, the Badgers finish out the season with 4 out of 5 at home, a seemingly generous scheduling gift—until you realize that the five teams they face at season’s end are Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Michigan State—the projected 5 best teams in the Big Ten this season.
Many believe that this is the year the Badgers lose their streak of finishing in the top four of the Big Ten, and it may very well be true. But that is why they play the game—no one thought the Badgers would finish in the top 4 two years ago after losing Dekker and Kaminsky, Bo Ryan, and a 9-9 start to the season, but not only did they accomplish that, but reached the Sweet 16 as well.
Wisconsin lost a lot this season, but they still have a National Player of the Year candidate in Ethan Happ and a slew of up-and-comers in D’Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson, Brevin Pritzl, Aleem Ford, and freshman Nate Reuvers. It won’t be easy—college basketball never is—but if we’ve learned anything over the past two decades, it’s that you can never count out the Badgers. Ever.