When can the Badgers be taken seriously as legitimate contenders?
This is the question surrounding Wisconsin year in and year out. The 2022-23 season is no different.
Just one year ago, Big Ten Player of the Year Johnny Davis led the Badgers to a 24-win season and a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. They survived against Colgate in the first round before falling to 11th-seeded Iowa State. This seemed par for the course for Wisconsin, who has won just one national title back in 1941.
This season, Wisconsin is off to a 9-2 start and it up to 17th in the nation. The Badgers have won four in a row and are beginning to put it all together. With that being said, there might be some skepticism around the team.
Wisconsin began the season with victories over South Dakota, Stanford, and Green Bay. Next, it was an unimpressive victory over Dayton before suffering an overtime loss to Kansas.
The Badgers have not had many chances to pick up a signature victory in the non-conference. There will be plenty come Big Ten play — and one has already come. Wisconsin took down No. 13 Maryland before defeating Iowa. To be fair, the Hawkeyes just suffered a loss to Eastern Illinois as a 31.5-point favorite.
The ranking for Wisconsin to this pint is fair given their record and potential. It should not be any higher because the competition level has not been high.
Early on, Wisconsin struggled to score the ball. In the victory over Dayton, the team mustered just 43 points. That has turned around recently as the Badgers have scored 70 or more points in four of the last five games.
Wisconsin is averaging just 68.3 points per game, which is 12th in the Big Ten. It is 13th shooting 42.3% from the field but has shot the ball well from deep. The Badgers are shooting 37.4% from three-point range, which is fourth in the conference.
Tyler Wahl is leading the way scoring 14.5 points while the guard play has remained consistent but not overwhelming. Chucky Hepburn is scoring 12 points per game while Connor Essegian has added 10.6. In the postseason, guard play is what proves to be king. To this point, it is hard to imagine the Badgers getting Johny Davis level of play from their guards. Wahl will have to continue to be the leader.
Where Wisconsin excels is taking care of the ball. The Badgers are averaging just over 10 turnovers a game, which is among the best in the Big Ten.
When it is all said and done, Wisconsin should be contending for a Big Ten title in a very difficult conference. Will this carryover to success in the NCAA Tournament?
The Badgers have struggled to get over the hump in recent years. Back-to-back Final Four appearances just a few years back resulted in no championships. Last season was an opportunity but the team underachieved. This time around, the Badgers are notes talented but anything is possible.
As the season goes on, Wisconsin will have the chance to go up against the likes of Purdue and Illinois in the conference. There will be plenty of measuring stick games for a team that is expected to make some noise come March.