No one should blame Wisconsin Badger fans for potentially focusing all of their energy into the football team right now. After all, the Badgers are ranked fourth in the country and began their season with a convincing 34-3 victory over Western Kentucky.
However, for all the Wisconsin basketball fanatics out there, the 2018-2019 schedule has officially been released. And it’s a big season for Greg Gard’s squad.
The Badgers are looking to rebound after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 seasons. The group destined to begin a new March Madness streak in Madison is pretty ideal. Wisconsin welcomes back its full starting five from last season.
Obviously, the Badgers’ schedule will play a role in the extent to which they succeed. A big reason Wisconsin struggled last season was because it went 7-6 in non-conference games.
So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the Badgers’ 2018-’19 non-conference schedule.
Coppin State, Houston Baptist, Savannah State, Grambling State
These are all cupcake games for Wisconsin that are intended to boost confidence and add to the win column. Each of these games should allow Greg Gard to go deeper into his bench and experiment with different lineups.
The highest RPI of any of these teams from last season belongs to Savannah State, who ranked at 199. Every other team here had an RPI in the mid-200s or worse.
Nothing to worry about here for Badgers fans. Savannah State lost by an average of 39.4 points in seven games against Power 5 opponents last season.
11/13/2018: @ Xavier (Gavitt Games)
- Last Season RPI: 4
- Last Season Record: 29-6 (15-3)
Wisconsin gets right into the thick of things by playing Xavier in mid-November. Badgers-Musketeers has become a very competitive rivalry over the past few seasons, so this should be a fun one.
It all started when Bronson Koenig hit a falling three-pointer to upset the second-seeded Musketeers in the second round of the 2015-’16 NCAA Tournament.
Since then, Xavier beat Wisconsin 80-70 in Madison last season. The game was much closer than the score indicated. The Musketeers pulled away in the final two minutes or so.
This is actually listed as a “neutral site” game. But, considering it will be played in Cincinnati, it’s basically a home game for the Musketeers.
Unlike Wisconsin, Xavier is losing the majority of its key contributors from last season. In fact, the Musketeers are losing nearly 60 percent of their scoring. Xavier’s three-leading scorers, Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, and Kareem Kanter have all graduated. The three players were also Xavier’s leading rebounders.
Considering Xavier still has a lot of underclassmen talent, The Musketeers should be able to adjust down the line and still be competitive in the Big East. However, with that being said, Xavier will be far from adjusted in Mid-November. So, Wisconsin gets Xavier at an extremely ideal time, even if the game is in Ohio.
The Badgers should come away with a win considering how much more experience they have. And hopefully for Wisconsin, Xavier ends up putting together a good season so the win looks great on the Badgers’ resume.
11/21/2018: Stanford (Battle 4 Atlantis)
- Last Season RPI: 86
- Last Season Record: 19-16 (11-7)
The Badgers begin their trip to the Bahamas with what should be a competitive game against Stanford.
The Cardinal lose leading scorer Reid Travis, as the graduate forward transferred to Kentucky. Dorian Pickens, who averaged 14.5 points per game, has graduated as well. But, Stanford welcomes back a pair of talented sophomores in Daejon Davis and Kezie Okpala.
The Cardinal also has an extremely impressive recruiting class that includes three-four star freshman. Wisconsin-Stanford has the potential to go down to the wire. My gut tells me the Badgers will pull it out.
11/22/2018: Oklahoma or Florida (Battle 4 Atlantis)
- Last Season RPI (Oklahoma): 53
- Last Season Record (Oklahoma): 18-14 (8-10)
- Last Season RPI (Florida): 35
- Last Season Record (Florida): 21-13 (11-7)
Regardless of what happens against Stanford, Wisconsin will have another opportunity to earn a solid win in the second round of Battle 4 Atlantis.
With Trae Young leading the Sooners, Oklahoma completely fell apart last season. The Sooners began the season 12-1 and climbed up the AP Top 25 in a hurry. But, the Sooners went 6-13 from then on and got bounced by Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma is now without Hield but essentially returns the rest of its team. It also grabbed a solid recruit in four-star guard Jamal Bieniemy.
Nevertheless, the Sooners should float around 16-20 wins again next season.
Despite losing some key contributors, leading-scorer Jalen Hudson will still be the go-to guy for the Gators. Florida also has one of the top recruiting classes of 2018, which includes three ESPN Top 100 players.
The Gators should have no trouble getting passed Oklahoma. If Florida ends up playing Wisconsin, The Badgers will struggle and probably get handed their first loss of the season.
11/23/2018: Butler or Dayton, MTSU, or Virginia (Battle 4 Atlantis)
For sake of space, we won’t go too in depth on this one since there are endless possibilities. Regardless, any team here would be a tricky match up.
Playing Virginia and winning would most likely give the Badgers their most significant win of their non-conference slate. However, doing so would be extremely difficult.
Butler will experience some regression from last season but will still provide a competitive matchup.
Frankly, no team here will be an easy out for the Badgers.
11/27/2018: Vs. NC State
- Last Season RPI: 72
- Last Season Record: 21-12 (11-7)
Wisconsin will be looking to bounce back from last season’s Big Ten-ACC challenge loss to Virginia.
NC State overachieved last season and have the potential to do so again this year after reaching the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolfpack will be slept on considering big-bodied Omer Yurtseven has left the program while both Lennard Freeman and Al Freeman have graduated.
However, NC State boasts an impressive recruiting class. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce and Utah transfer Devon Daniels are now eligible and should help contribute as well.
I’m predicting a victory, which could be a bit of an upset, for NC State.
12/8/2018: @ Marquette
- Last Season RPI: 60
- Last Season Record: 21-14 (9-9)
Despite the graduation of lethal shooter Andrew Rowsey, the Golden Eagles are poised to make a March Madness run.
Popular pick to finish within the top three of the Big East, Marquette returns a lot of experience and also gain Nebraska transfer Ed Morrow. In addition, Marquette snagged graduate transfer Joseph Chartouny from Fordham. The guard is stout on defense and averaged 12.2 points per game last season.
This will be a tough matchup for the Badgers, especially considering it will be played in Milwaukee. Sam Hauser and Markus Howard should have their way. Looks like this will be a Golden Eagle victory.
12/29/2018: Vs. Western Kentucky
- Last Season RPI: 32
- Last Season Record: 27-11 (14-4)
After being favored by many to win the Conference USA, the Hilltoppers barely missed out on making the NCAA Tournament last season. As a result, they haven’t garnered the amount of respect that they probably deserve.
Western Kentucky is a very talented team which made the the NIT Semifinals last season. The Hilltoppers upset no. 18 Purdue last season and almost knocked off Villanova.
The Badgers are extremely familiar with Western Kentucky as well and definitely won’t take them lightly. Wisconsin squeaked by the Hilltoppers 81-80 last season.
If this game were being played away from the Kohl Center, it would be considered a trap game for Wisconsin. However, the Badgers will play in front of their home crowd and will undoubtedly keep their feet on the gas given how close they were to losing last season.