1. Non-Conference Schedule is Tricky
Wisconsin may be an inexperienced team, but they don’t have the luxury of taking their time before they hit their stride. They need to come out of the gate strong. The Badgers open the regular season against a tough Yale Bulldogs team, led by 2015-16 March Madness hero Makai Mason. They then host a Xavier team that will likely open the season in the Top 25 and be thirsty for revenge. Just four days after that, the Badgers will take on an always tough Baylor team in the first round of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City with the winner taking on Creighton or UCLA.
It doesn’t get easier after that brutal opening stretch. The Badgers play a pair of tough true road games. The first one is against Virginia in the Big 10/ACC Challenge and will likely set the record for the most jokes about pace of play and “boring” basketball ever made in a two hour stretch. The second one is against Temple, an NCAA Tournament contender, and will be played in the historical Palestra. The Badgers also host a talented mid-major team in Western Kentucky, play hungry intra-state mid-majors Green Bay and Milwaukee, and host rival Marquette. That is a lot of tough, losable games. Yes, even the Marquette one.
2. Early December Big Ten games are favorable
The Big Ten schedule will look slightly different this season because the Big Ten Conference Tournament will be played a week earlier to accommodate Madison Square Garden (It is dumb idea for a number of reasons, but that is a rant for a different time). As a result, teams in the Big Ten will play two of their conference games in early December. Luckily, the Badgers drew Ohio State and Penn State on December 2nd and 4th.
It’s no secret that this Wisconsin team is young. Like the post Kaminsky-Dekker Badgers, it may take this team a little while to reach their full potential. Therefore, it wouldn’t be good for them at all if they had to play two tough Big Ten teams in December. Fortunately, the Badgers dodged a bullet. Ohio State is in full rebuilding mode and while Penn State should improve, they aren’t exactly a terrifying matchup.
3. Touch stretch to end season could make or break the season
The top four teams in the Big Ten to start the season are Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota (vomit), and Michigan State. The Badgers play all four of those teams consecutively to end the season. So yeah… that’s not good.
Or is it? All of those games except Northwestern will be played at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin also usually peaks around that time. So this could be a chance to pick up some quality wins right before the regular season ends. If Wisconsin is a bubble team, this stretch could be pivotal. Even if they aren’t, those four games will play a big part in their seeding.
4. Wisconsin plays three of the top Big Ten teams twice each
As mentioned before, the top four teams in the Big Ten will likely be Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan State. Actually, strike that. Wisconsin hasn’t finished outside the top four in the Big Ten in 15 seasons. There are kids in high school that have never been alive in a year where Wisconsin finished outside the top four, so I’m not going to be the idiot that picks against them.
So allow me to rephrase. On paper, the four best teams in the Big Ten are Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan State. The Badgers will play all of them except for Minnesota home and away. On one hand, that is bad news. It will be even harder to keep the top-four streak alive with so many games against the top tier of the Big Ten. On the other hand, there will be a lot of chances to pick up quality wins
5. Where are the Saturday games?
Saturdays are for college sports. They have been forever. It is the most fan friendly day for games. That is why it is a travesty that Wisconsin was only given three Saturday games, and only one in conference. For contrast, Wisconsin has four Friday games, which is by all measures (AKA my brain) the least fan friendly game day. Between this, the Big Ten Tournament on the east coast debacle, and Friday night football games, Jim Delany is not making many friends in Madison.