Wisconsin Big Ten Tournament Outlook

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, Bo Ryan’s Badgers are headed to the Big Ten Tournament with a first round bye, after finishing the regular season in the top four in the conference for the 13th consecutive year.

Besides one window of six games, the 2013-2014 Wisconsin Badgers have lost one game. Wisconsin's season was a microcosm of the entire year in the Big Ten. At one time they seemed like they could run with any team in the country, going 16-0 to start the season, and then just a few weeks after that point they were unranked in the polls. But the Badgers recovered and finished the season 25-6 overall, with a 12-6 record in the Big Ten, good for second place in the conference, their best finish since the 2007-2008 season.

Wisconsin opened the season with the best start in team history, before dropping five of their next six games. A road victory over Illinois and a two point win over then ninth ranked Michigan State in early February seemed to get their season back on track, as they won eight of their final nine games, now vying for a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin could use a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, as they seek to build momentum for an NCAA Tournament run, and try for their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2008.

They lost their final regular season game to Nebraska 77-68, as Nebraska had a whole lot more to play for, and it showed. The Huskers, and their fans, showed unlimited energy and fight throughout the game, especially through Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway, who scored 26 points apiece. While the Badgers may not have had much to play for in that game, every game from here on out is incredibly important, and they cannot afford to take another game off.

Wisconsin will play the winner of seventh-seeded Minnesota and 10th-seeded Penn State, who play on Thursday. The Gophers beat the Nittany Lions 81-63 on Sunday, in the final game of the season. The Badgers split the season series with Minnesota, and beat Penn State 71-66 on the road in their only meeting of the season.

Assuming the Badgers can get by their first round opponent, they will face the winner of Michigan State and Iowa/Northwestern in the semi-final on Saturday. Oddly enough, the only member of those three teams to beat the Badgers this season is Northwestern, but it will be a shock if the eleventh-seeded Wildcats make it past Iowa and Michigan State.

Iowa and Michigan State have had their fair share of anxiety this season. Each team was once ranked in the top 10 and dreaming of a conference championship, but now the Spartans are ranked 22nd and Iowa is absent from the rankings. Both teams will have plenty to play for in the Big Ten Tournament, as they try to build confidence and improve their NCAA Tournament resume.

A win in the semi-final game would be huge for the Badgers, as it seems like it would all but lock up a two seed for the big dance. A game against Iowa or Michigan State will undoubtedly be an entertaining and passionate game, with both teams putting it all on the line.

Wisconsin beat Iowa 75-71 on January 5, when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery threw a temper tantrum and was tossed out of the game. The Badgers swept the season-series on February 22, as Frank Kaminsky led the Badgers to a 79-74 victory. If the Badgers face Iowa in the semi-final, they will need to focus their attention on Roy Devyn Marble, as he scored 48 points against the Badgers in their two meetings.

On February 9, Traevon Jackson hit a mid-range jumper with 2.1 seconds left to propel the Badgers to a 60-58 victory over Michigan State, propelling Wisconsin's run back into the national conversation. The Badgers and Spartans have developed a fierce cross-sport rivalry over the last few seasons, and a semi-final matchup in the Big Ten Tournament will only add fuel to the fire.

Looming on the other side of the bracket are first-seeded Michigan, fourth-seeded Nebraska and fifth-seeded Ohio State. A matchup with the Big Ten title on the line with any of these teams would present a unique storyline, but the Badgers have a lot of work to do before then.

For Badger fans, this season was a back and forth ride of excitement and agony. As the league heads into the postseason, Badger fans are hoping that maybe this year, with all of its quirks and oddities, could finally be the one that sends Wisconsin to the Final Four. It all starts on Friday in Indianapolis.

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