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Wisconsin Badgers Big Ten Tournament Breakdown

After a scorching hot finish to the season, the Badgers look to continue their momentum into the Big Ten Tournament, likely playing Nebraska in the first game on Thursday.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, talking about Wisconsin's "rags to riches" 2016 rise is equivalent to beating a dead horse. The Badgers have had an incredible turnaround, finishing the season 11-2 with the only losses on the road to Purdue and Michigan State. Pretty darn good for a team who sat at 9-9 and was looking like an NIT team, not one that would finishing in the top four for the 15th consecutive year in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin is going to make the NCAA Tournament, currently with five wins in the top-50 and 10 wins in the top-100 of the RPI. The question now becomes how far can they make it in the Big Ten Tournament, and subsequently the NCAA Tournament. Their first game in postseason play begins with the winner of Rutgers or Nebraska, the 11 vs. 14 game.

Since Rutgers went 1-17 in conference and only beat extremely depleted Minnesota, let's assume that the Cornhuskers will be Wisconsin's first opponent. The Huskers aren't terrible, but their only top-100 win was at Michigan State when the Spartans were reeling without Denzel Valentine. I expect guys like Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ to have a field day against a very weak Huskers frontline. Unless Shavon Shields has a career game, the Badgers should roll over Nebraska.

If Wisconsin gets through, their quarterfinal matchup is against the #3 seeded Maryland Terrapins. Most teams in the Big Ten would shudder having to play the Terps in a quarterfinal, but the Badgers were able to beat them in College Park. This would make for a great matchup, as Maryland has only gone 7-5 in their last 12 games while Wisconsin has continued to roll.

While Nebraska has no real frontcourt presence, the Terps have one of the best frontcourts in America with the starting trio of Jake Layman, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone. Maryland is the more talented team on paper, but with the way Wisconsin has been playing, I wouldn't be surprised if the Badgers pulled the upset.

Wisconsin's semifinal matchup on the bottom of the bracket would likely feature either Michigan State or Ohio State, but I can't imagine the Spartans would have too much trouble with Thad Matta's club. The Spartans are arguably the hottest team in America right now, and Bryn Forbes' reemergence as one of the top shooters in the country might make this team the favorite to cut down the nets in April.

At this point, I don't think many teams playing their best basketball have the firepower to beat Michigan State, and if the Badgers get here, I don't think they'll be the ones to do it. Regardless, a semifinal appearance in the Big Ten Tournament would be a major momentum boost to the NCAA Tournament, in which the Badgers could get anywhere from a 5 to 8 seed depending on the generosity of the committee toward Wisconsin's recent play.

If the Badgers can continue to get positive production out of their bench, they could be primed for a deep run come late March. The other play who needs to continue to play better for Wisconsin is Bronson Koenig. His play could be the difference between a solid run to the Round of 32 or 16 vs. being a legitimate Final Four contender again.