The Wisconsin Badgers finished the regular season 28-3 -- their best start in school history. Head coach Bo Ryan's squad equaled their best Big Ten conference mark at 16-2.
Monday night, senior center Frank Kaminsky won Big Ten Player of the Year, with Ryan earning Big Ten Coach of the Year by his peers.
To discuss the Badgers' season and what awaits them this weekend at the Big Ten Conference tournament, we welcome three of our writers:
The regular season has now ended after Wisconsin's 72-48 statement win against the Ohio State Buckeyes. What are your assessments of this year's Wisconsin squad?
Zach: This year's team is unlike one I have ever seen come out of Madison. Despite only having one player with a five-star rating out of high school in Sam Dekker, the Badgers are in position to maybe even snag a No. 1 seed with a strong conference tournament and some help. They have the best college basketball player in the country in Kaminsky, and two scrappy, intelligent sophomores in Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, along with do-it-all Superman in Josh Gasser. This group is destined for March greatness, and with the goal of a national championship in mind this postseason, this squad has as good of a chance to take home the title of any Badger team since the program indeed won it all in 1941.
Jim: Sunday showed that the Badgers aren't just a really good team -- they are one of a select few who can contend for a national title. Wisconsin went on the road against a solid Ohio State squad featuring one of the nation's best players and absolutely obliterated the Buckeyes.
The Badgers' offensive efficiency is insane, they don't turn the ball over, and Kaminsky is the best player in the country. However, the defense can be inconsistent and the bench is abysmal. There are plenty of reasons why Wisconsin is one of the nation's best, but there are still a few kinks that prevent the Badgers from being a surefire Final Four team.
Multiple Badgers earn All-Big Ten honors
Frank Kaminsky led four Badger players who were honored Monday with all-conference recognition, joining head coach Bo Ryan.
Bart: Like most of us, I had high expectations for this team -- I went so far as to predict they'd go 16-2 in the Big Ten -- and they lived up to them. They flat-out dominated the conference in a way few teams have ever done, winning most of their games by ten points or more and playing many second halves in cruise control. Put aside the mystery, Kaminsky-less loss to Rutgers, and you've got one of the all time great runs for any team in Big Ten play.
As Jim mentioned, they've gotten it done with offense, and the defense hasn't quite been what I expected. Generally, Bo Ryan teams perform better on defense the more experienced they are. This is a team full of experienced upperclassmen, so I expected a more balanced team that could lock down a little better. I also wondered if they'd miss Ben Brust more than many expected, but for the most part his absence has been counterbalanced by the emergence of Kaminsky as the best player ever to wear the cardinal and white.
Heading into the Big Ten Tournament, the field is set. Which teams could give Wisconsin problems in the tournament, and how?
Zach: The best answer here would be Maryland. They laid a major upset on the Badgers on February 24, and with the scoring abilities of guard Melo Trimble and experienced wing Dez Wells, a game with the Terrapins will be no walk in the park for the Badgers. I am going to go with another team here, however, as a dangerous early game threat, as the Michigan Wolverines will be in contention to play the Badgers if they beat Illinois. Michigan presents a very dangerous club, as the scoring of Zak Irvin and the improved play of Derrick Walton Jr. can rattle the Badgers' defense, and the Wolverines definitely possess a solid defensive unit, at least out on the perimeter.
Jim: Aside from Wisconsin, the Big Ten is a conglomerate of decent but not great teams. Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and Ohio State could all give the Badgers trouble in the conference tourney.
But the Terrapins are the obvious answer here. Without Traevon Jackson two weeks ago, Gasser was forced to guard Melo Trimble. This left Dez Wells on a mismatch with the slower Hayes, and he gashed Wisconsin for 26 points. It's possible Jackson won't return this week, meaning the Badgers would need a revamped strategy if they met Maryland in the title game.
Bart: Obviously, Wisconsin is the class of a somewhat down conference and the Badgers will be a pretty decent favorite no matter who they play. I don't think Maryland can hang with them without their impressive home-court advantage (which I experienced first-hand). Generally I would say Michigan State is the most difficult team for the Badgers to match up with in March, but that doesn't seem to be true this year -- so I'll just make something up: Purdue. They are obviously peaking at the right time, and they have the size to rough up Kaminsky in the post and take advantage of any foul trouble. If both teams win their first game, they'll meet up on Saturday, and it could be a good one.
Aside from the usual cast, who needs to step up for Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Tournament championship?
Zach: Overall depth and bench production has been a disaster during conference play, and ever since Jackson went down with a foot injury, for that matter. Hopefully once Jackson fully heals and starts to contribute again, the Badgers bench players will produce more consistently on both sides of the court. As for the question, Duje Dukan has got to be that guy to step up here in March. I know he has what it takes to contribute to a long postseason run and he has years of experience and many Big Ten Tournaments already completed in the past.
He had a nice showing against Ohio State, and his seven points are evidence he may be regaining his offensive stroke that he had so much trouble finding throughout conference play. He hit a three and added four other points, as well played solid defense all day long against the Buckeyes.
Even More Hoops
Big Ten tournament field finalized
Your Wisconsin Badgers enter the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed and undisputed regular-season conference champion. When and who do the Badgers play play? Read on for all the juicy details! (Note: they might not be super juicy.)
Even More Hoops
Jim: Anybody on the bench. Anybody at all. The Badgers already had depth issues prior to the Jackson injury, but without him, it has become apparent just how bad the second unit is. Before the Ohio State matchup, Wisconsin had gone seven straight games in which all five starters played 30 minutes or more.
The Badgers desperately need a bench player to contribute meaningful minutes while not being an offensive liability. Dukan could be that player -- his seven points against the Buckeyes were the most since he had eight against Iowa Jan. 20. Dukan is capable of being that player, he just needs to find his shooting stroke—he shot just 33.3 percent overall in Big Ten play.
Bart: Dukan showed how valuable he can be in the first half of today's game against Ohio State. Then he reverted to his recent malaise in the second half, but I definitely think he's the X-Factor, the mythical Jon Bryant figure who could carry the Badgers to the promised land if he gets hot. The thing I like best about Dukan is that he has no conscience, and he's not going to stop shooting. Hopefully he gets hot.
A lot of bracketologists have the Badgers as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. For Wisconsin to achieve a No. 1 seed, is it more on what Wisconsin can do in this tournament, or how other teams fare (and possibly fall) in their respective tournaments?
Zach: The truth is that the Badgers need to both win the Big Ten Tournament and have at least one or two of the college basketball's elite teams to fall in their tournaments. A prime candidate in this case would be Villanova, as the Big East tourney will display some tough match-ups for the Wildcats. Also, the Virginia Cavaliers and the Duke Blue Devils cannot both win the ACC tournament, so I am just hoping one of those three teams fall in their respective conference tournaments, and hopefully one falters early.
Jim: If the Badgers win the conference tournament, they'd be 31-3 and garner some serious consideration for a No. 1 seed. The problem is that one inexplicable loss at Rutgers -- no team with serious 1-seed aspirations has a loss worse than that. Duke and Maryland would be considered "good" losses, but perhaps more importantly, the Badgers just don't have a signature win.
This Ohio State victory might be it, but aside from that, Wisconsin's next best win came against Oklahoma in November. Arizona beat Gonzaga, Duke beat Wisconsin and Virginia, Virginia has beaten a handful of solid teams and Kentucky obviously isn't losing its top billing. Villanova doesn't have the strongest resume from a "Who did they beat?" standpoint, but it's still better than Wisconsin's. Bottom line, the Badgers definitely need one of those borderline teams like Villanova or Arizona to have an early loss if they are to get a No. 1 seed.
Bart: They'll need help. It's an amazing group of teams at the top of college basketball this year: there are currently five teams (including Wisconsin) above .9500 in the Kenpom ratings -- and that doesn't include Duke (at .9410)! Only once has the season ended with even four teams at such a level (2008, when all four 1-seeds made the Final Four). What I'm saying is that it just hasn't been a normal year; the top teams haven't suffered the normal amount of upsets. As a result, the Badgers could conceivably go 31-3, win both Big Ten championships, and be saddled with a No. 2 seed. They'd be easily the best, most accomplished, most impressive two-seed in recent history by a significant margin.
So when I write things like that, my "spidey sense" tells me that things will work themselves out. Either the Badgers will lose in the Big Ten tournament or one or more of the teams "ahead" of them in the bracketology will get upset.
I do think one thing the Badgers have going in their favor is that the committee will try to avoid this disaster scenario of putting Wisconsin and Kentucky in the same region if they have any opportunity to do so -- Wisconsin just needs a sliver of an opening.