Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
It's put up or shut up time for Wisconsin, which lands just outside of the Top 25 in this week's voting. Two tough home games await the Badgers, against conference leader Michigan State and rival Minnesota.
Losing at Iowa discouraged writers and coaches just enough to keep Wisconsin out of the new Top 25 rankings this week, even after UW's impressive win last Tuesday. The Badgers are second among "others receiving votes" in both polls.
Duke is your new No. 1 team (again) across the board after losses by Louisville and Indiana last week.
So the Badgers remain unranked heading into a very important week that can reveal whether their upset win at Indiana was just a nice win, or an indication that the team is ready to contend for a Big Ten title.
Wisconsin first takes on No. 13 Michigan State with first place on the line this Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Spartans (16-3, 5-1) Big Ten) hold a half-game edge over Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana (all 4-1 in conference). After that, the Badgers face No. 12 Minnesota (15-3, 3-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The high level of difficulty is offset somewhat by playing both teams at the Kohl Center.
The stretch is also integral to determining the pecking order in the nation's top conference. However, it comes at a tough time for Wisconsin. The Badgers still will be without reserve center Frank Kaminsky, who is recovering from a nasty poke to his left eye, while backup point guard George Marshall is also ill and questionable for Tuesday.
Minnesota is the top offensive rebounding team in the country. Michigan State is strong inside with Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Therefore, redshirt sophomore center Evan Anderson is getting reps with the starters and top reserves in practice. Though Kaminsky's rebounding numbers are average, Anderson certainly cannot duplicate his outside shooting. That exchange compromises Bo Ryan's strategy of stretching the defense with a capable big man.
Looking at efficiency margins statistics and plus/minus standings, Wisconsin is very much in the thick of the race regardless of the hiccup in Iowa City. Even though UW plays at the slowest pace in the conference by far, the team's efficiency margin is +0.13 thanks to the Big Ten's most efficient defense. Additionally, with two road wins already, the Badgers are still in the top tier for plus/minus (at +2), meaning they have plenty of opportunities to move up in the standings by holding serve at home.
That is why this week is so important. When tournament time arrives, the Spartans and Gophers will be the ones jockeying with the Badgers for the better seeding.
We know that polls matter not to Ryan -- he asked a reporter after the Indiana game how high the Hoosiers were ranked. Yet if the Badgers can pull off even one of these "upsets" this week (UW is actually favored in both by Ken Pomeroy), you'll see Wisconsin occupying its traditional place in the Top 25 next week.