Perhaps there are two goals during the non-conference schedule. First, it’s important to come out the other side unscathed. Second, it’s important to find out who you are as a team. The competition, for some, gets more challenging once conference games start. Surely that’ll be the case for Wisconsin. Although after the team’s current seven game winning streak, Greg Gard has a better sense of who the Badgers are.
It’s hard to project which games will (or won’t) be meaningful. Circumstances could change drastically, but with the information we currently have, I’ll mark my calendar for these games.
January 3rd @ Indiana (6:00 PM CST, ESPN) and February 5th vs. Indiana (12:00 PM CST, CBS)
Wisconsin has a tough road game almost right away with an early showdown in Bloomington, especially with the Hoosiers getting healthy. The two game series with Indiana could decide the Big Ten regular season title.
Indiana’s balance and depth could hurt Wisconsin, particularly in the backcourt. And of course the one-on-one matchup between Thomas Bryant and Ethan Happ will be fun to watch.
January 8th @ Purdue (TBD, CBS)
Purdue will have a say in the Big Ten title race, so this is another early conference game that could have important implications down the road. It’s the only regular season game of the year between Wisconsin and Purdue and Purdue gets it at Mackey.
The back-to-back Indiana/Purdue road trip for the Badgers is a great early test and if Wisconsin earns a split, I’d suspect most Badger fans would be happy. This is the only opportunity to beat Purdue, so this is the one to win.
January 21st @ Minnesota (3:30 PM CST, BTN)
Much like Rutgers, Minnesota finished with a great non-conference record (12-1) and are twelfth in the RPI. The Gophers have more talent and depth this season and the border battle is generally competitive (more so than in recent years).
The Barn is another tough road game because the atmosphere tends to elevate the home team (just like Maryland’s home court advantage did last year). The game will be a struggle between Wisconsin’s size inside and Minnesota’s length/athleticism on the perimeter.
February 26th @ Michigan State (TBD)
Who knows where Michigan State will be in February? But usually Tom Izzo has them playing pretty well and Wisconsin ought to still be hunting for a Big Ten regular season title.
The Badgers, under Bo Ryan at least, have had success in East Lansing, but it’s another tough road game and the only meeting between these two programs.
As evident, I’m mostly interested in Wisconsin’s road games. The Badgers are reliable/predictable at home and they generally win, regardless of the level of their competition.
In particular, Northwestern at the Kohl Center in early February might be interesting, as well as the home game against Minnesota. But mostly how Wisconsin plays on the road is the key. We can safely assume they’ll win a large percentage of their home games, no matter the opponent. But Wisconsin’s performance away from Madison is key and the Badgers have a couple of tough road tests early.
If the Badgers want to make a run for the conference title they will need to find a way to win big games away from Madison.