After a pair of convincing wins over South Carolina State and Yale to open the 2017-18 season, a young Wisconsin team is about to find out exactly where it stands. The Badgers are about to embark on a difficult stretch that starts with matchups against No. 15 Xavier on Thursday and No. 25 Baylor on Monday.
Depending on how the Badgers fare against Baylor, they will take on No. 23 UCLA or Creighton in the 2017 Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 21. That two-game tournament is followed up by a game against in-state rival Milwaukee on Nov. 24, then a Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup against Virginia on Nov. 27. That game will lead right into Wisconsin’s Big Ten opener against Ohio State on Dec. 2.
That is a bear of an early-season schedule that can typically include teams like Chicago State, Central Arkansas, Prairie View A&M and North Dakota. But the Badgers are ready to test themselves after an extended exhibition season that started when Wisconsin took an offseason trip to New Zealand and Australia in August.
Wisconsin’s young roster, which includes three freshmen that have been in the top eight of the rotation thus far, has already had five overseas exhibitions, two home exhibitions and two smooth-sailing regular-season games to get their feet under them.
They’ll see just how sturdy those feet are when they host Xavier on Friday. The Musketeers are off and running in 2017, opening the season with a 101-49 win over Morehead State and a 101-75 win over Rider. The Badgers and Musketeers last met in the second round of the 2015-16 NCAA Tournament, when Wisconsin pulled out a 66-63 win thanks to a buzzer-beating Bronson Koenig 3-pointer.
It’s the same story with Baylor, which has opened the season with a 107-66 win over Central Arkansas and a 70-46 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Musketeers and Bears are going to give Wisconsin a difficult look defensively.
Through two games, it appears that the Badgers have what it takes to play their customary shutdown defense. But different styles pose different struggles, and it will be interesting to see how a Wisconsin team full of inexperienced players adjusts.
These next couple of weeks will go a long way in setting the narrative for the 2017-18 Wisconsin team. Will they climb their way right back into the top-25 polls by the time the opening month is over? Will they have a rare down year due to their youth? Will they reestablish themselves as Big Ten contenders?
Those questions will be a lot closer to be answered by the time the Ohio State game rolls around. For now, it’s going to be fun to see early-season basketball teams between NCAA Tournament staples who are looking to get their season off on the right foot.