After 19 years, it looks like the streak will end this week. After 19 straight seasons where the Wisconsin Badgers appeared in the NCAA Tournament, the streak will finally die. The Badgers have struggled all season and the team’s only chance to keep the magic rolling is to win the Big Ten Tournament.
And that’s not being pessimistic. That’s just reality.
But, of course, it’s not over until it’s over. The Badgers still have one final shot to resurrect what looks like a lost season and it will come in New York City. Let’s take a look at whether Wisconsin can get the job done.
The Badgers will open up things on Thursday afternoon with a matchup against Maryland. The two will tangle in the eight vs nine game at noon eastern. While Wisconsin had an underwhelming season, the Badgers did avoid having to play on Wednesday.
Generally speaking, Maryland and Wisconsin aren’t that different. Neither team lived up to preseason expectations and the two were separated by just one game in the Big Ten standings. The only regular season game between the two was on February 4th, which the Terps won by a final score of 68-63.
And while KenPom gives Maryland a 61 percent chance to win on Thursday, that’s probably overselling things. Wisconsin has been one of the more efficient teams in the nation over the last month and has won four of its last six games since losing to Maryland on the road at the beginning of February.
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup will be upfront where Bruno Fernando will battle Ethan Happ. The two have both been extremely productive for their respective teams this season. Whoever wins that matchup could very well decide the game.
It’s a tough opening round game for Wisconsin, but it’s more than winnable. The odds favor the Terps, but this one is probably closer to a tossup than many think.
-If They Advance
Should Wisconsin find a way to get past Maryland, things get really interesting. The Badgers would face Michigan State on Friday afternoon in a rematch of last Sunday’s regular season finale. In that game, the Spartans came out on top, but did so in the narrowest of fashions. If Wisconsin can replicate that perform, it should be close.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that one seeds haven’t fared all that well in the Big Ten Tournament over the last few years. Purdue got knocked out by an eight seed last year and Indiana did the year before that. The past performance of other teams doesn’t dictate how Michigan State will play, but it is an interesting thing to note here.
If Wisconsin finds a way past Michigan State, the team would be likely looking at either Michigan or Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, neither of those matchups look all that good on paper. Wisconsin went 0-3 against those two this season. The games against Nebraska were competitive, but the Badgers couldn’t finish things off.
Of course, should Wisconsin find a way beyond the semi-finals, it’s impossible to guess who would be on the other side of the bracket. Purdue has the best odds, but the Boilermakers are far from a guarantee to advance. Either way, though, we know that Wisconsin would have a pretty challenging championship matchup.
There is one thing that should be mentioned here, though, and it’s Wisconsin’s improved play over the last month of the season. I mentioned it briefly above, but the Badgers have been playing much better basketball. Even if Wisconsin has lost games, they have pretty much all been competitive.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the advanced stats. Over the last month, TRank rates Wisconsin as the second-most efficient team in the Big Ten and No. 20 nationally. That’s incredible for a team with a losing conference record. More simply put, Wisconsin still isn’t great, but it’s been playing much better.
Perhaps that improved play will carry over to New York City.
From a realistic perspective, I can’t sit here and pretend that Wisconsin is in great shape to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers have an uphill battle to even make it to Friday and TRank doesn’t even give the team a one percent chance to win out.
However, this is college basketball. A place where craziness is the norm. And if the Badgers can play like they have over the last month, the team has a shot.