The Wisconsin Badgers enter the 2014-15 season with sky-high expectations. It's only fitting that their non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in recent memory. At this moment, we don't have official dates for some games, but know the opponents and the locations of the games.
Like Thomas Beindit said here, non-conference schedules are tricky. Since they take place so early in the season, no one knows how treat non-conference wins or losses. For example, Wisconsin beat the Florida Gators in Madison last November. On paper, that's quite the victory. But due to suspensions/recruiting snafus, Florida was without point guard Scottie Wilbekin, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, and guard Chris Walker. Those huge losses for Florida allowed the Badgers to eek out a victory.
For Wisconsin fans, that win was a huge confidence boost and proved that the Badgers can contend. But Florida fans took little stock in that loss because they played short-handed. The perception of non-conference wins and losses are in the eye of the beholder.
Now, who does Wisconsin play? I'm glad you asked.
- November 26-28 - The Battle 4 Atlantis
- December 3 - Duke
- December 6 - at Marquette
- December 22 - at California
- Dates TBA - UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay
That's a very glamorous non-conference slate. Since the Battle 4 Atlantis has a lot of different scenarios, let's examine that first. From there, we'll break the rest down in little sections.
The Battle 4 Atlantis
Wisconsin will travel down to the magical kingdom of Atlantis where all games are played underwater. We saw Frank Kaminksy dominate in the low post last season, but can he still move fluidly with a full set of scuba gear? We'll have to wait until their first game against UAB on November 26. The Blazers are a fine team, but Wisconsin should roll through them.
After UAB, they face the winner of Florida and Georgetown. Although Florida will lose Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, they're in good hands with the duo of Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. Both players demonstrated flashes of potential last season, and look to prove why they were such highly-touted recruits. History has been kind to Georgetown, but they struggled last season. I expect a Wisconsin-Florida rematch.
From there, it'll be a toss-up. Florida has oodles of talent, but will rely on some unknown and unproven players. Every starter and contributor on Wisconsin is a known entity. That experience could push them over the edge.
In that case, Wisconsin would head to the championship to play either UCLA, Oklahoma, Butler or UNC. If Wisconsin skates past Florida, I don't see any of those teams knocking off the Badgers. The Bruins and the Tar Heels are filled with talent, but haven't converted that talent into consistent victories. We'll see how those teams fare in the mystical netherworld of Atlantis.
The final frontier. The ultimate test in college basketball.
Duke returns consistent contributors in Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson, but their stars will be their freshmen. Jahlil Okafor is the #1 ranked center in college basketball and will be the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Tyus Jones is the #1 ranked point guard in the nation. They also have another 5-star wing in Justice Winslow and a top-ranked shooting guard in Grayson Allen.
With all that talent, you may think the Badgers will be quaking in their boots. No. Wisconsin has faced teams filled with top prospects before. They'll be neither star-struck nor intimidated. In addition, this game will be at home. The Kohl Center is always rocking, but special things happen when Duke comes to town.
Unlike 2009, Wisconsin won't be a huge underdog. In fact, they easily could be favored. In any event, circle December 3 on your calendar. That will be a game for the ages.
Wisconsin rounds out December with road trips to Marquette and Cal. When the Badgers and Golden Eagles square off, rankings don't matter. These two teams have traded wins and losses for the past few years, and always put on a show. Last season, the Badgers beat Marquette at the Kohl Center, but have to play against new coach Steve Wojciechowski on the road.
The last time Cal visited Madison in 2012, they got spanked 81-56 in of the grossest basketball games I can remember. But with new coach Cuonzo Martin, the Golden Bears look to improve on their NIT Quarterfinal appearance last season.
Considering Wisconsin's level of talent and poise, the Badgers should handle both of these teams. Both Cal and Marquette will circle the Wisconsin game as a chance to prove their worth on a national stage. While an upset is possible, I expect wins in both of these games.
Wisconsin will also host UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay at some point during their non-conference slate. UWM made the tournament last season as a #15 seed and UWGB still has star point guard Keifer Sykes, but the Badgers are a different class . Look for UW-Madison to repeat as state champs.
The Badgers are in for a treat during the non-conference schedule. They face some major tests in Duke, (probably) Florida and (potentially) UNC. Because the 2014-15 team isn't much different from last season's Final Four squad, we already know a lot about what this team can do against top opponents. These tests will only help shape our expectations for the Badgers come March.