It’s here, everybody. Not only is the Wisconsin Badgers basketball season almost back, but literally almost the entire team is back.
The Badgers are returning 99.8 percent of their minutes from the 2015-16 team that reached the program’s third consecutive Sweet Sixteen. With all five starters returning, including three preseason All-Big Ten players, hopes for Wisconsin to reach its third Final Four in four years are high.
Here is a look at each of the Badgers’ non-conference games with a prediction of how each game will end. All predictions are 100 percent guaranteed, or something like that.
Nov. 11 vs. Central Arkansas
Last season, I predicted a 24-point Badgers win over Western Illinois in the season opener.
As we learned last year, nothing is a guarantee... but Central Arkansas is the 332nd-ranked team, according to KenPom.com. Its only non-conference win last season came against UTSA, though the team should be improved this season after returning most of its minutes. The Bears are a high-possession team that can put some points up, but also give them up at a high-rate.
Prediction: Badgers 90, Bears 62
Nov. 15 at Creighton
Playing at Creighton in the second game of the season? There are easier things to do in the world. Guards Maurice Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster, a transfer from Kansas State, can score, but the frontcourt possesses the most efficient players on the team. It will be an early challenge for the Badgers, but the sound defense is enough to eke out a road win against a NCAA tournament team.
Prediction: Badgers 65, Bluejays 60
Nov. 17 vs. Chicago State
Chicago State is ranked No. 339 on KenPom. It does, however, have a Brown Deer (Wis.) alum in Trayvon Palmer (Go Falcons). This should be a game where lots of Badgers see plenty of minutes.
Prediction: Badgers 82, Cougars 52
Nov. 21 vs. Tennessee (Maui Invitational)
With nine newcomers to the roster, the Volunteers are projected to finish at the bottom of the SEC. While they aren’t Rutgers (or even close to that level), Tennessee returns only one player that saw the floor more than 50 percent of the time last season. Early in the season, I’ll take Wisconsin in paradise.
Prediction: Badgers 76, Volunteers 66
Nov. 22 vs. Oregon
This could be the semifinal (!!!) matchup at Maui if the Ducks defeat Georgetown in the first round. Oregon brings Dillon Brooks to the table, as well as 6’10 matchup nightmare Chris Boucher. The Ducks are a legitimate Final Four threat after returning much of last year’s Elite Eight team. This game would be a fun one, and it’s honestly a toss-up at this point. The winner gets a nice resume-padder, while the loser isn’t really hurt all that much.
Prediction: Ducks 73, Badgers 71
Nov. 23 vs. Connecticut
This game could be against UConn, Chaminade, North Carolina or Oklahoma State. The way I see it playing out, UNC makes the championship game by beating the Huskies, which would pit the Badgers against UConn.
Rodney Purvis, man. UConn lost Daniel Hamilton, Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs, but Purvis is part of a dynamic backcourt that also features Jalen Adams. That duo will need to have a big game to take down Wisconsin. The Huskies open the season ranked in the top 20 and could likely jump even higher by this game. A win for the Badgers should be in the cards here, and it may be over an eventual NCAA tournament team.
Prediction: Badgers 67, Huskies 60
Nov. 27 vs. Prairie View A&M
Vaunted SWAC opponent Prairie View A&M will probably not win this game. Offensively, it is one of the worst teams in the nation. Defensively, it’s only a little bit better.
Prediction: Badgers 88, Panthers 54
Nov. 29 vs. Syracuse
For the second consecutive season, the Badgers drew the Orange in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Last year, it was an overtime win for Wisconsin at the Carrier Dome. This year’s installment will be at the Kohl Center against a very good Syracuse team. Andrew White III didn’t have great games against the Badgers last season with Nebraska, so the senior transfer decided he wanted one more crack at it with a better team. Between him, Tyler Lydon and the Orange 2-3 zone, shooters could determine this game. I’ll take Wisconsin’s ability to step outside without relying too much on that part of the game.
Prediction: Badgers 65, Orange 63
Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma
Back-to-back games against teams from last year’s Final Four are on the slate for the Badgers, but the Sooners project to be less daunting than Syracuse. Gone are Buddy Hield (though Nigel Hayes held him relatively in check last season in Norman), Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. This year’s Sooners team will be led by high-efficiency players in Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin, with some returning players from the bench and a couple of recruits that could contribute right away. At the Kohl Center, it would take an exceptional performance from Oklahoma to come away with a win.
Prediction: Badgers 72, Sooners 64
Dec. 7 vs. Idaho State
Guard Ethan Telfair averaged over 20 points per game last season for the Bengals. He also added eight steals in a game.
Idaho State lost that game 83-49.
Prediction: Badgers 78, Bengals 51
Dec. 10 at Marquette
Despite losing Henry Ellenson to the NBA, Marquette could very well be a better team than the one that beat the Badgers last season. Transfer Andrew Rowsey can light it up and adds to a team with seven players that could very well shoot over 35 percent from deep. Playing at the Bradley Center will be a tall task in the latest installment of this rivalry.
Prediction: Golden Eagles 71, Badgers 69 (OT)
Dec. 14 vs. UW-Green Bay
Basketball is a weird sport. The Phoenix never made the Big Dance with Keifer Sykes, then averaged about 5,000 possessions per game without him last season and made a run in the Horizon League tournament to end up as a No. 14 NCAA tournament seed. UWGB will be a veteran-heavy team this season and can test a team with its tempo and pressure. We saw the Phoenix almost steal Greg Gard’s head coaching debut last season. This game will be the Badgers’ final contest before finals begin, which can always be a bit of a challenge. The Phoenix will keep it close until the very end in a high-scoring game.
Prediction: Badgers 85, Phoenix 73
Dec. 23 vs. Florida A&M
Florida A&M is ranked as the No. 351 team in college basketball on KenPom. There are 351 teams in Division-I college basketball.
Prediction: Badgers 85, Rattlers 50