Despite a really productive regular seasons and the second-highest win total of Greg Gard’s tenure, the Wisconsin Badgers come into this week’s Big Ten Tournament under the radar nationally. Few are talking about Wisconsin, even though the Badgers are 12th nationally on KenPom and have won five of the team’s last six games.
So, can Wisconsin make a run in the Big Ten Tournament? Let’s take a look.
As the four seed, Wisconsin was able to secure the last double-bye of the week and will tip-off play in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday against either Maryland or Nebraska. The Terps will be favored in that game, but the Huskers have shown some fire this week. Badger fans will be hoping that Nebraska can pull off the upset.
If it is Maryland, there’s no denying that it will be a challenging matchup. The Terps are 18th nationally on KenPom and an easy bet to make the NCAA Tournament. Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando are two of the better players in the league and Jalen Smith has been really good for a freshman. The teams split the regular season series.
However, Maryland has been pretty inconsistent as well. The Terps may have a 13-7 record in Big Ten play, but the team also lost to Illinois, Penn State, and Seton Hall already this season. And considering that only one of those three games happened on the road, there’s clearly some upset potential with Maryland.
If it’s Nebraska, it could also be a dangerous matchup as well. The Huskers are only 44th nationally on KenPom, but were able to come back in a win over Rutgers on Wednesday and have six wins against top 50 opponents on KenPom this season. Nebraska will also be desperate, considering that Tim Miles is on the hot seat.
All told, Wisconsin sits in pretty solid position to make it past Friday. The Badgers are better on paper than Maryland and Nebraska and, as such, will be favorites to move on. The key will be slowing down Bruno Fernando or James Palmer.
-If They Advance
Should Wisconsin make it past Maryland or Nebraska, it would then likely face Michigan State on Saturday. The other options are Indiana and Ohio State, assuming they somehow manage to get past the Spartans. Wisconsin lost its only meetings against Michigan State and Indiana this season and won its only regular season game against Ohio State. As such, fans will likely be hoping the Buckeyes make it to Saturday.
However, assuming it is Michigan State, things are going to be challenging. On paper, there’s no denying that Michigan State is a better team. The Spartans are 25-6 overall, 16-4 in Big Ten play, and have won seven of the team’s last eight games. Michigan State is also fourth nationally on KenPom and the program hasn’t lost its Big Ten Tournament opener since 2010. That’s eight straight opening round wins for Michigan State in the conference tournament. An incredible accomplishment.
However, Michigan State has shown some vulnerability. The Spartans got swept by Indiana during the regular season and dropped a road game to Illinois in February. Wisconsin did lose at home to the Spartans on February 12th, but a lot has happened since then. Plus, the game was pretty competitive.
After that, Wisconsin would likely be looking at either Michigan or Purdue in a potential championship game. The Badgers split with the Wolverines and the lost the team’s only matchup against the Boilermakers at home on January 11th. Wisconsin would likely be an underdog against either opponent, but not by a significant margin.
Over the last month of the regular season, many have forgotten about the Badgers. It’s hard to say why, but Wisconsin now arrives in Chicago under the radar nationally. The team will now hope to be overlooked in its upcoming games in route to a Big Ten Tournament run.
Can the Badgers make a run? Of course. After all, the team is talented, experienced, and has multiple top-tier players. However, doing so won’t be easy. Maryland likely awaits in game one and Michigan State thereafter. Doing anything will take quite an effort.
All told, Wisconsin has a reasonable shot to do some major damage this weekend. It will just come down to how the Badgers perform around Ethan Happ.