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Wisconsin basketball: The path to a double bye

A look into how the Badgers can secure a top-four finish in the B1G.

Dan Sanger

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team (15-10 overall, 8-6 B1G) has endured a 2019-2020 season filled with highs and lows thus far, on and off the court.

After three losses to three mid-major programs — Saint Mary’s, New Mexico and Richmond — in non-conference play, many fans were panic stricken. Five-straight wins thereafter, including wins against ranked Tennessee and Ohio State, swung the pendulum of fandom the other direction rather quickly.

Weeks later, the news of Kobe King leaving the program, and Erik Helland’s use of a racial epitaph epithet, brought calls for Greg Gard’s job by some corners of the fan base.

In a chaotic Big Ten Conference that has embodied the wide-openness of the national landscape, Wisconsin was able to battle through adversity over and over again up to this point.

Now with six games remaining on their schedule in Big Ten play, Wisconsin is positioned, per tradition, in striking distance of a top-four finish in the conference standings. The Badgers went on a historic run of placing inside the top-four from 2001 to 2017 that was reestablished last year after a brief one-year hiatus.

While it would be exciting for Wisconsin to finish in the upper four teams at the top of the conference heap, its impact for the Big Ten Tournament is far more important. The top-four teams in the conference earn a double-bye in the conference dance, affording them extra rest, and a better chance at a securing a tournament championship.

As it currently stands, the Badgers are tied for sixth in the Big Ten, and would earn the seventh seed in the conference tournament due to tie-breakers.

Here is a breakdown of what Greg Gard and company need to do in order to obtain the coveted double bye and a top-four finish...

The obvious answer is to win. Wisconsin has a manageable schedule remaining, with all of the teams — outside of Rutgers — currently slotted behind the Badgers in the conference standings. In addition to a favorable schedule in terms of opponents, Wisconsin also will host four of their last six games at the Kohl Center, a place where they are 11-1.

On the flipside, Illinois, who is currently tied with Wisconsin, has games upcoming at Penn State and Ohio State, as well as a match up with Iowa.

Similarly, Rutgers must travel to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Purdue, and also must play Maryland at home.

Michigan State has lost four of their last five games, two of which were at home. Their schedule only continues to become tougher, with games against Iowa, Penn State, Maryland, and Ohio State still to play. The toughest of which — Penn State and Maryland — are also on the road.

Lastly, Iowa has games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, and Illinois still on their schedule.

A simple comparison of remaining schedules definitely gives Wisconsin a much easier road on paper. Given the rough stretch ahead for most of the teams ahead of them, if the Badgers can win five of their last six games they should easily find their way into the top four.

As it stands, Wisconsin trails Iowa, Michigan State, and Rutgers by only a half-game. A win over Rutgers would likely vault them ahead of the Scarlet Knights, while Iowa and Michigan State should each lose at least two games given their tough slate to go.

At this point, if the Badgers are able to hold serve at home with wins, and split their road games, a top-four finish is within reach. Don’t be surprised if it is a top-three placement if the dominoes fall their way.

There are plenty of other scenarios that could transpire over the next two weeks, but if the Badgers want to nearly ensure a top-four finish, five wins is the magic number.

Four wins could potentially do the trick as well given the amount of fluidity that the Big Ten has had this season, but a loss to Rutgers can’t be in the cards.