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Can The Badgers Make A Run In This Year’s NCAA Tournament?

What can Wisconsin do in the Big Dance?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Milwaukee Practice Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a fast start for Greg Gard in Madison, we’re now five years removed from the last time the Wisconsin Badgers did much in March. The Badgers are an underwhelming 1-2 in the Big Dance since the program’s Sweet 16 run in 2017 and missed the postseason altogether in 2018. Wisconsin has been winning, we just haven’t seen as much of it when it matters most.

However, fans will hope Wisconsin can flip the script on that this year. The Badgers enter the NCAA Tournament as a three seed and will open up against Colgate on Friday. Wisconsin also has the advantage of playing the first weekend in Milwaukee, meaning it’s first game (or two) are basically home games. Obviously, that’s a huge advantage.

So, how far can Wisconsin go in this year’s March Madness? Let’s take a look at the bracket and what to expect.

Opening Round

As noted above, Wisconsin landed as a three seed in the Midwest Region and will open up against Colgate on Friday night. The Badgers figure to be significant favorites against the Raiders, who finished the regular season at 23-11 overall and rank 119th on KenPom. And adding a home court feel to the matchup should only help the Badgers even more.

The key to this one will largely hinge on Johnny Davis. The All-American has been fantastic for the Badgers this season, but injured himself at the end of the season and his health status is now relatively uncertain. If healthy, he’ll easily be the best player on the floor. The question is just whether that’ll be the case. If he’s limited, Wisconsin suddenly becomes quite vulnerable and could easily go down.

All told, one would imagine this is a game Wisconsin can find a way to grind into a win. The Badgers are simply a better unit, even if Davis has some hiccups. Colgate can shoot the lights out (the Raiders are second nationally in three-point percentage), but there isn’t much else to the team’s statistical profile. Wisconsin should be able to punish a poor Colgate defense and hold up against Colgate’s interior presence.

If They Advance

Should Wisconsin take care of business and move on to the Round of 32, the team would then be facing either LSU or Iowa State. Obviously, both project to be significantly tougher than Colgate. However, they’re not elite opponents either, especially with the game taking place in Milwaukee. LSU’s head coach was recently dismissed and Iowa State enters the NCAA Tournament at 20-12 having lost three straight.

Assuming LSU advances, Wisconsin’s primary challenge will be slowing down do-it-all wing Tari Eason. He’s one of the best players in the country and dominates on the boards and in the paint. Expect Davis and Tyler Wahl to try and slow him down. LSU’s defense is also nationally elite, meaning Wisconsin will have to find ways to attack beyond Davis alone. It figures to be a tough matchup for the Badgers.

Should Wisconsin win both games and advance to the Sweet 16, it would then likely be looking at a matchup against Auburn, USC, or Miami (FL). All three would pose a major challenge to the Badgers. The Tigers have more than enough offensive firepower to beat Wisconsin, the Trojans have elite talent, and the Hurricanes can shoot the lights out.

If the Badgers are fortunate enough to move on from there, they would be looking at a matchup against someone like Kansas, Providence, or Creighton in the Elite Eight. And a potential Final Four game would come against someone like Arizona or Villanova. Gonzaga and Baylor would be the favorites for potential national championship opponents.

Overall

Wisconsin enters this postseason in a unique position. The Badgers had a remarkable regular season, winning the Big Ten title and compiling an impressive record. However, the team has some questions as well, particularly due to the team’s poor performance over the last two weeks and the injury to Davis. Wisconsin’s overall statistical profile (32nd on KenPom) also leaves a lot to be desired, leading many to think the team’s record might be an overstatement about the team’s potential in March, especially with the program’s recent history.

We’ll have to wait and see who ends up being right, but the Badgers certainly have more than enough to make it past this weekend and beyond. The team needs guys to step up alongside Davis, but the All-American can make his mark as well. It should be fun to watch.