The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers don’t have to play another basketball game until Friday morning because they got a double-bye in the B1G Tournament due to, you know, winning the conference. They will face the winner of Thursday morning’s Rutgers/Michigan game in the quarterfinals.
We wanted to discuss what we thought was going to happen in the B1G Tournament this year, a year in which things seem as wide open as ever, so we convened a roundtable. Belz, Ryan, Tyler and Kevin all had thoughts on this year’s tourney and here they are!
This is a postseason roundtable but I feel like we need to discuss this first: the 2019-20 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team just ended the regular season as conference champs and are currently on an eight game winning streak. Can you believe it?
Belz: What a difference a month makes. Since the blowout loss at Minnesota on February 5th, the Badgers have shot the three-ball so much better thanks to stellar ball movement. Pair that with improved production from players like Aleem Ford and Brad Davison during this key stretch, and the Badgers have been a completely different team. The road wins at Michigan and Indiana to finish off the season were impressive, and tilted the conference race in their favor.
Tyler: I simply cannot. I am still in shock that this group turned this thing around after everything they have been through. Ford has stepped up, D’Mitrik Trice has been unbelievable, Micah Potter is a constant spark off the bench. Everyone rallied behind their coach and believed in one another. I think this story deserves way more publicity than what it has gotten.
Kevin: It’s been an incredible turnaround. The Badgers went from a borderline tournament team to a potential four or five seed, in a matter of a few weeks. Greg Gard deserves all the credit in the world for righting the ship after dropping four of six conference games and losing Kobe King to transfer in January. It feels like every player has stepped up and embraced increased roles, with the absence of King. Ford has been lights out and playing the best basketball of his career, while guards Davison and Trice have been rock solid and shooting the ball well during the Badgers’ eight game winning streak. I’m both excited and confident in this Wisconsin team heading into the Big Ten and NCAA tourney, something I never thought I’d be saying back in late January.
Ryan: It’s amazing, considering the turbulent season that this team had and is really a testament to the type of coach that Greg Gard is. For the team to lose (what we thought was) one of its most important pieces in King, its strength and conditioning coach and not to mention the Howard Moore
travesty tragedy AND they still finished the season on an 8-game win streak and are crowned conference champs.
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way...how does the B1G Tournament bracket line up for the No. 1 seed Badgers? Do you foresee a deep run for UW?
Belz: The way that the Badgers have been playing, I think they have a great shot to make it to Sunday in the conference tournament. Wisconsin has a favorable route to get there, but this conference continues to amaze me this year.
Tyler: I think they can certainly make it to Sunday. I think the bracket set up really well for them. I personally want another shot at Iowa and Illinois so winning a game and possibly getting one of them would be fun to see. I like their chances but these tournaments are always weird and get a little funky sometimes.
Kevin: I think the Badgers are in a great spot. Personally, I’d rather play Rutgers than Michigan in the quarterfinals, but Wisconsin will be favored in either match up. Getting the number one seed was key as they avoided having to play Michigan State or Maryland in a potential semifinal match up.
Instead, the Badgers will play the winner of Iowa and Illinois, assuming both avoid an upset. Regardless of seed though, every game in this tournament will be a grind for the Badgers. It’s been that way all year in the loaded and unpredictable Big Ten.
Ryan: A double-bye in the B1G tourney is a huge advantage for teams. Wisconsin will face either Rutgers or Michigan in their opener on Friday. They’re 1-1 against Rutgers and 1-0 against Michigan, so they have experience beating both teams and should be able to do it again.
Also, the way that this team has gelled down the stretch makes them a tough opponent to beat and that should continue. College basketball has been weird this year, so anything can happen, so a tournament championship is not out of the question.
Do you see any of teams that didn’t get a double-bye making it to the semifinals?
Belz: Iowa and Ohio State have the guns to make it happen. The Hawkeyes have been struggling lately, losing three of their last four games, but Luka Garza is the type of talented player a team can lean on in tournament situations. Iowa and Illinois split their regular season match ups, so it’s a toss up how that game could unfold on a neutral court.
Tyler: I would agree and say Iowa. Anytime you have the player of the year in the conference you have a shot to do it. Ohio State doesn’t do much for me, and Penn State are the frauds of the conference. Michigan could too, but lets hope not.
Kevin: I think Iowa has the best chance. Luka Garza is the best player in the conference and an absolute problem to guard. If Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick are making threes, the Hawkeyes are a scary team to play in a tournament format. It also helps they won’t have to play Michigan State or Maryland in a potential quarterfinal game.
Ryan: Garza makes Iowa a tough team to beat. He is a beast inside and the conference’s player of the year.
Which player will win most outstanding player of the tournament?
Belz: Anthony Cowan Jr. or Cassius Winston make a lot of sense here. The Badgers usually do things with a committee approach, while those two lead guards can take over games. Maryland and Michigan State have the best odds to represent the bottom half of the bracket, so I will hedge and say one of them.
Tyler: I think Cowan Jr. was born for these big moments. He’s taken a ton of late game shots and hit them, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him really lift Maryland in this spot.
Kevin: I’ll go with Cassius Winston. Winners of five straight, Sparty is peaking at the right time and likely to make a deep run in this tourney. Winston is coming off a 27-point performance in the regular season finale, and is a great bet to have a big tournament in Indy.
Ryan: I have to agree with Belz on this one, both Cowan Jr. and Winston have a lot of experience on this stage and certainly have delivered before. Wisconsin’s committee approach doesn’t bode well for individual honors, but it certainly does on a team level.
What is your finals match up and who do you have earning the automatic bid by being B1G Tournament Champions?
Belz: I want to say either Wisconsin or Michigan State will win it. The two teams split the two match ups in the regular season, so a neutral site rematch could be really fun. They have the best records in the last eight games in the conference, and they each get some extra rest thanks to the double bye.
Tyler: Hard to beat Michigan State in March, but if Maryland beats them I think they take it home. They have the pieces to really play well if they come out and play like they should on paper.
Kevin: I think the winner of the Michigan State and Maryland semi-final match up will end up as the champion. I’ll take the Spartans to beat the Badgers in a close title game, but I could easily see Maryland making it to the final as well. Tom Izzo has his Spartans rolling into March on a five game winning streak and are finally playing like the preseason number one team they were expected to be.
Maryland has struggled down the stretch, losing three of four before a dominant win over Michigan on Sunday. That win gives the Terps some momentum heading into the tournament and their top two players, Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, are as good a duo as there is in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has an easier path to the title game but it’s asking a lot for the Badgers to extend their winning streak to 11 games and win the whole thing.
Ryan: I’m going with Wisconsin vs Michigan State in the final. As for the champ, I’m going to be a bit of a homer and go with UW. The way they are playing right now both offensively and defensively, makes them a dangerous team. Gard has been pushing all of the right buttons and the combination of Nate Reuvers and Potter on the court at the same time is a match-up that favors Wisconsin.