The Wisconsin Badgers as Big Ten regular season basketball champions? What is this, 2015?
One could be forgiven for writing off the 2015-16 version of the Wisconsin Badgers after a bad non-conference start and 1-4 start to Big Ten play. However, as we enter the final weeks of the season and the final half-dozen contests or so, the Badgers sit just two games out of first place and may have the most direct path of any team to a potential Big Ten title run.
How is that possible for a team that lost games to Western Illinois and Milwaukee, not to mention Northwestern early on Big Ten play? A six-game win streak and wins over the likes of Michigan State and Indiana is how.
It’s no fluke either, as the Badgers are shooting 47.1 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from beyond the arc and a consistent 70.6 percent from the free throw line. Compare those numbers with season averages of 43.4 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point range and you see why things are very different for the Badgers of late.
All of that is well and good, but what does it mean for Wisconsin heading down the stretch and why does it matter to the Big Ten regular season title race?
Games with Iowa, Maryland (later today), Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all certainly present a clear path to a championship run. A difficult path for sure, but one that certainly exists given the topsy-turvy nature of the top of the Big Ten standings.
Winning all five of those games, especially with four of those five games on the road and five of the last seven overall games on the road, may be a bit much to ask. Still, it isn’t a stretch to believe no matter whom the Big Ten regular season champion is, the Badgers have likely played a role in making it happen.
Pulling off an upset over Maryland on Saturday night or at No. 4 Iowa in the final week of February would certainly derail Big Ten title hopes and put the Badgers just one game closer to the top of the standings.
The only team the Badgers can’t affect is the Indiana Hoosiers, whom the Badgers have already split a seasons series with. Knocking off Maryland on Saturday would put the Badgers just one game behind the Terps and just two back of the Hoosiers in the loss column by the end of the day.
Wins over Purdue and Michigan would be huge, given all three are on four losses so far and thusly put the Badgers even closer to the top of the conference standings. However, those are two of the final three games of the season and by then we could be looking at teams in very different positions.
Still, it is hard not to notice all the teams in front of the Badgers and all but one of them remaining on the schedule.
No other team outside of Indiana, which has Iowa, Purdue and back-to-back games against Maryland on the schedule, has as much control of what happens at the top of the Big Ten as the Badgers do.
Maybe hopes of a title will be fleeting at best, but don’t expect anyone to win a Big Ten championship in this final month without them having to have gone through the Badgers to do it.
Buckle up folks, because the Big Ten title race could be in for a bumpy ride alongside the Badgers.