2011-12 Wisconsin Badgers: The Early Going

After a season that saw the Badgers ride a senior-laden squad into the Sweet Sixteen before a disastrous loss at the hands of Brad Stevens Clark Kent, the Badgers have a lot to replace. Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, two players who gave their every effort as the Badgers managed their run through the NCAA Tournament, are gone; Leuer was a second round pick Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Draft. In addition, little-used big man J.P. Gavinski and guards Brett Valentyn and Wquinton Smith are also out of eligibility.

However, the Badgers return one of the best Point Guards in the nation, Jordan Taylor. However, Taylor, like any other player, had some rough spots, never more evident against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament (where he arguably had the worst game of his career) and Butler in the Sweet Sixteen (where he had possibly the second worst game of his career). But when Taylor got rolling, he was almost impossible to stop. He bombed Indiana for 38 points in Assembly Hall and then shot the lights out against Ohio State as the Badgers handed the Buckeyes their first loss of the year.

Taylor will definitely need a supporting cast to get going, and he has a pretty young group of teammates with which to work. Mike Bruesewitz returns at forward, Josh Gasser (he of the game-winning bankshot against Michigan and the first triple-double in school history) returns at the other guard spot and Jared Berggren will return at center.

Wisconsin's early schedule will help the young team gel; the Badgers play UW-Stevens Point in exhibition before playing the Kennesaw St. Owls (who were 8-23 last year) and the Colgate Raiders (who were 7-23 last year) in the Kohl Center. The Badgers will then travel to the Windy City for the Chicago Invitational Challenge, where they will play Wofford (their first round opponent in the 2009-10 NCAA Tournament) in the first round, UM-Kansas City in the second round, Bradley in the third round, and either BYU or Nevada in their final game.

The Badgers will return from Chicago, but won't have long to rest before traveling out to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels. Carolina is loaded, and to be completely honest, I do not expect Wisconsin to take this game on the road. With that being said, if Taylor and company manage to hand a likely top-5 UNC team a road upset, Wisconsin would likely shoot high into the polls.

The Badgers will then take on Marquette in the Kohl Center, and they've won their last two games against the Golden Eagles (last losing in 2008), before taking on UW-Green Bay at home. Home tilts with UNLV, an NCAA Tournament team last year, and a road game at UW-Milwaukee, which was literally one game from the NCAA Tournament, follow; UNLV actually beat the Badgers last year (via a turnover on an inbounds pass by Mike Bruesewitz with the game tied), but that game was in Las Vegas. To finish out nonconference play, Wisconsin takes on Savannah State (12-18 a year ago) and Mississippi Valley State (13-19 overall, but 12-6 in SWAC play).

To begin Big Ten play, the Badgers travel to Lincoln to take on Nebraska (yes, it felt very unusual typing that sentence) and then welcome the Iowa Hawkeyes to the Kohl Center. Nebraska was on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament last year before suffering a flurry of losses, but they could prove to be a tough test for the Badgers. Iowa, while putting up a poor W-L record a year ago, will continue to improve under Fran McCaffery and could threaten to upset Bo Ryan's team.

Day Date Opponent Time TV
SAT. NOV. 5 UW-STEVENS POINT (Exhibition) 7 p.m. BTN.com
SAT. NOV. 12 KENNESAW STATE Noon BTN.com
WED. NOV. 16 COLGATE 7 p.m. ESPN3.com
SAT. NOV. 19 WOFFORD (Chicago Invitational Challenge) 7 p.m. ESPN3.com
TUE. NOV. 22 UM-KANSAS CITY (Chicago Invitational Challenge) 7 p.m. BTN/BTN.com
Fri. NOV. 25 vs. Bradley (Chicago Invitational Challenge) 7:30 p.m. BTN
Sat. NOV. 26 vs. BYU or Nevada (Chicago Invitational Challenge) 7 p.m. BTN
Wed. NOV. 30 at North Carolina 8:30 p.m. ESPN
SAT. DEC. 3 MARQUETTE 3:30 p.m. BTN
WED. DEC. 7 UW-GREEN BAY 7 p.m. ESPN3.com
SAT. DEC. 10 UNLV 1 p.m. BTN
Tue. Dec. 13 at UW-Milwaukee TBA -
THU. DEC. 15 SAVANNAH STATE 7 p.m. BTN
FRI. DEC. 23 MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE 4:30 p.m. BTN
Tue. Dec. 27 at Nebraska 8 p.m. ESPN2
SAT. DEC. 31 IOWA Noon BTN

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Despite the trip to UNC (which I've dreaded since the game was announced), this should be a fairly manageable schedule for the Wisconsin Badgers. A 12-3 or 10-5 start wouldn't surprise me at all, but 14-1 seems like it could be likely with the only loss coming at the hands of UNC. With that being said, Wisconsin has seemingly always managed to drop a game that they shouldn't in nonconference play, and just about anything is possible in the Big Ten.

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