What had the looks of another dominant season for Wisconsin turned out to be an utter disappointment. The Badgers began the 2016-’17 season with a 21-3 record and climbed to as high as seven in the AP poll.
In early February, it appeared Greg Gard was doing an exceptional job in his first full season as Wisconsin’s head coach. However, the Badgers uncharacteristically ran out of gas in the final leg of the regular season.
While Wisconsin had a tendency to improve throughout the season under Bo Ryan, Gard’s Badgers completely fell apart down the stretch. Simply put, they looked terrible during the last month of the season.
Though Wisconsin picked up a desperately needed win over Minnesota before heading to D.C for the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers have lost five of their last seven games. Wisconsin’s offense has been more frigid than a Madison winter, and its free throw shooting has reached a new level of horrendous.
Is there any chance the No. 24 Badgers can rejuvenate their season and capture a Big Ten Tournament title?
Let’s take a look.
Despite the Badgers’ recent struggles, their hot start in conference play significantly rewarded them in terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding.
Wisconsin won 10 of its first 11 Big Ten games this season. Although this makes the Badgers’ 12-6 record in conference play look unimpressive, Wisconsin snagged a two seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The fact that the Badgers are seeded within the top four in the Big Ten Tournament means that they will receive a double-bye to the quarterfinals.
Gard’s squad will play the winner of seventh-seeded Iowa and 10th-seeded Indiana.
Though Wisconsin has proven on numerous occasions that it is capable of shooting itself in the foot against any conference opponent, playing the Hoosiers is in the Badgers’ best interest.
It’s worth mentioning that Indiana hung tough against Wisconsin on both occasions that the teams played. Regardless, the Badgers came out on top 75-68 in Bloomington and with a 65-60 win at the Kohl Center.
Iowa, on the other hand, recently pulled off a 59-57 comeback victory over Wisconsin in Madison. Not to mention, the Hawkeyes are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. Iowa responded to a three-game losing streak by winning its final four games of the regular season. The win streak also included a convincing 83-69 road win over Maryland, who almost never loses at home.
The Badgers and Hawkeyes are trending in opposite directions. Playing Iowa in the quarterfinals is far from ideal for Wisconsin.
If They Advance
If Wisconsin advances to the semifinals, by either getting revenge over Iowa or beating Indiana for the third time this season, there are a number of teams the Badgers could potentially play.
In the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern will play the winner of Rutgers and Ohio State’s opening round matchup. Then, the winner of the Wildcats’ game will square off against No. 3 seed Maryland. Finally, whichever team emerges from Maryland’s quarterfinal will play Wisconsin. Of course, this is only if the Badgers are able to collect a victory in the quarterfinals.
The Buckeyes trounced Wisconsin 83-73 in Columbus on February 23 to begin a three-game losing streak for the Badgers. The Scarlet Knights also gave Wisconsin everything it could handle in a 61-54 OT loss to the Badgers.
Nevertheless, both of these possible opponents are desirable for Wisconsin in the semifinals. This is not saying that Ohio State and Rutgers aren’t capable of beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. But, avoiding NCAA Tournament locks in Northwestern and Maryland, to play either the 11th place Buckeyes or 14th place Rutgers is dodging a major bullet.
That being said, based on how the Badgers are performing as of late, the Wildcats would most likely be favored over Wisconsin.
Northwestern beat the Badgers 66-59 on the road earlier this season. If Scottie Lindsey can play at the level the guard did before his illness, the Wildcats should have no trouble handling Wisconsin again.
Matching up against Maryland would also be difficult for Wisconsin. However, this game would be more of a toss-up than if the Badgers played the Wildcats.
Wisconsin actually handled the Terrapins 71-60 in a rare impressive all-around performance late in the season. Similar to the Badgers, Maryland ruined a tremendous start to the regular season by consistently losing in the last month. The Terrapins have lost three of their last five games.
Though a Maryland-Wisconsin rematch is basically a coin flip at this point, it’s safe to say the Badgers would rather play OSU or Rutgers in the semifinals.
The Terrapins are still an extremely dangerous team. It’s worth noting that Maryland is is 10-2 this season when Melo Trimble scores at least 20 points. Trimble has scored 20+ against the Badgers twice in four career matchups.
If Wisconsin is able to make it passed the semifinals, it would most likely play Purdue or Minnesota in the title game. But, that is a big if. First, the Badgers need to remember how to win back-to-back games, something they haven’t done since early February.