The Wisconsin Badgers entered this season with immensely high expectations. Wisconsin won a share of last year’s Big Ten title and returned virtually its entire roster from that campaign. It seemed like a safe bet to conclude the team would be in the conference title picture at season’s end.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone that well. Wisconsin has been a solid-to-good team, but nothing more, and has struggled against its toughest competition. As such, the Badgers enter this week trying to prove it can be a factor in March Madness.
So, can Wisconsin get the job done? Let’s take a look.
As the six seed, Wisconsin will open up Big Ten Tournament play on Thursday against the winner of the Penn State-Nebraska game. It’s not the seed fans were hoping to see entering this season, but it’s reality when you lose 10 games in conference play.
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
Still, the opening round matchup looks pretty favorable. Penn State advanced past Nebraska on Wednesday night. The two teams split the regular season series, but that largely seemed like a byproduct of a bizarre back-to-back scheduling. If Wisconsin plays up to its potential, it’s going to move on.
From an on-court perspective, Penn State certainly looks dangerous. The Nittany Lions are 35th on KenPom, despite an underwhelming overall record, and have already beaten Wiscosnin once before. The key is going to be slowing down Myreon Jones and Jamari Wheeler. The two combined for 33 points on Wednesday night.
-If They Advance
Should Wisconsin take care of Penn State on Thursday, the Badgers would move on to face Iowa on Friday evening. Unfortunately, that’s probably not a thrilling thought. Iowa swept the regular season series between the two, including a win over the Badgers last Sunday afternoon. There’s little debating Iowa would be a tough team to beat.
As most Big Ten fans know by now, Iowa plays through star big man Luka Garza. He’s arguably the best player in the country and put up 21 points and 16 rebounds in Iowa’s win over Wisconsin last Sunday. Obviously, those aren’t numbers likely to excite Badger fans heading into a potential matchup.
With all that said, Iowa also isn’t some unbeatable opponent. The Hawkeyes may be a top five team, but they still have seven losses on their resume, including two losses to Indiana and a loss to Minnesota. While Wisconsin may be an underdog, it’s a better team than Indiana and Minnesota, so pulling off an upset here is certainly possible.
Wisconsin would also have the advantage of already being warmed up before Friday’s game. The Badgers would be confident and comfortable, having played (and won) the day before. Meanwhile, Iowa will be ice cold, having been off since Sunday afternoon. Playing back-to-back games will eventually wear you out, but it takes more than two games to do it. If Iowa can hit the ground running and get Wisconsin down early, perhaps they can sneak out the upset.
If Wisconsin makes it past Iowa, it would then likely face Illinois. This is where the Badgers would really start needing some fortunate bounces. Illinois is probably playing better than anybody in the Big Ten right now and through dominated Wisconsin in the two regular season meetings between the two. And asking Wisconsin to beat Illinois in its third game in three days seems like a tall task.
After that, Wisconsin would likely get Michigan, Purdue, or Ohio State for the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday. Those potential matchups might be even tougher than the ones we’ve already described.
Wisconsin may not have lived up to its preseason expectations, but the team now enters March with an opportunity to put those missteps in the rear-view mirror. While it won’t be easy, there are some real opportunities to advance this week. We’ll see if the team can capitalize.