The Wisconsin Badgers received one of the coveted double byes in this year's Big Ten Tournament by being, simply put, the best team in the conference from the beginning of the season until the end. The top-seeded Badgers entered Big Ten play at 12-1, their only blemish being a home loss to Duke during the ACC/B1G Challenge, and expectations of a conference championship were high. Lead by B1G co-coach of the year Bo Ryan, the regular season champion Badgers have met all of their goals so far this season (except beating Rutgers, which was probably a goal they didn't think they had to state at the beginning of the year) and will look to cut down the nets in Chicago for their second trophy of the season.
After starting conference play at 2-0, Wisconsin travelled to New Jersey, without the services of B1G Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, to play Rutgers in a game that everyone still assumed they would win. Starting point guard Traevon Jackson went down with an injury during the game, and the Scarlet Knights pulled off the shocking upset. It's best not to delve too deeply into the rest of that game. The Badgers then reeled off 10 straight victories before succumbing to Maryland at the Comcast Center. Wisconsin has rebounded nicely from that defeat and won their last three games in dominant fashion over Michigan State, Minnesota, and Ohio State to finish the season at 28-3 overall, 16-2 in the Big Ten.
The Badgers first conference tournament game isn't until Friday, and as the top seed they are blessed with a lunch time tip. Wisconsin will play the winner of Michigan and Illinois at noon ET/11 am CT at the United Center on Friday to get the conference tourney started in earnest. The Badgers have played each team once this year, winning both, although Michigan did take them to overtime.
Against the Wolverines in a 69-64 win, the Badgers had a balanced attack lead by Kaminsky with 22 points and nine rebounds. All-conference second team member Sam Dekker added 15 points, backup point guard Bronson Koenig had 13, all-conference third team member Nigel Hayes had 10, and all-conference defensive team member Josh Gasser chipped in with nine. Michigan was in the throes of their injury-riddled season, and the fact that they pushed the Badgers to the limit was to their immense credit. Derrick Walton had 17 points and Zak Irvin had 12 to lead Michigan, but despite the game going to OT, the Wolverines never really threatened UW as the lowest Wisconsin's win probability ever got was 72.8% at the start of overtime.
Wisconsin had a much easier time dispatching the Illini during the regular season, winning 68-49. Per usual, the Badgers were lead by their starting lineup and four of the five starters scored in double figures. Kaminsky had a massive game, scoring 23 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, while Koenig had 15, Hayes had 14, and Dekker notched 10. Malcolm Hill was the leading scorer for Illinois with 15 points, but the team as a whole shot under 40% and, like most teams, did not have an answer for Kaminsky all day.
The Badgers are the odds on (10/11 according to Bovada) favorite to win the conference tournament, and doing so is the only way for them to be considered for a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. There is plenty still to play for because Wisconsin would like to avoid Kentucky for as long as possible, and most current projections have them as the two seed in the Wildcats' bracket.