Earlier this week, ESPN's Andy Katz speculated that Wisconsin's foe in the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge could be Syracuse. The caveat Katz acknowledged was that ESPN's ability to find good matches for teams expected to rank higher than Syracuse and Wisconsin will ultimately determine if this matchup is possible.
Assuming for a moment that Katz's intuition proves correct -- he is also predicting Indiana-Duke and Maryland-North Carolina for next fall -- allow me to connect a few dots.
If not already agreed upon, Bo Ryan will push hard for the game to be played on Wednesday, December 2, to give his team a two-day buffer between the Oklahoma and Temple contests that same week. Facing Syracuse is not the only intriguing ACC opponent for Wisconsin. However, it would be especially timely because both Ryan and Jim Boeheim have a lot to prove next season. The Badgers lose a ton of firepower from their back-to-back Final Four teams, while the Orange need to bounce back from a difficult 18-13 season overshadowed by the embarrassing announcement of NCAA violations. Pitting two national brands against each other, even when not at full strength, is good business.
The potential addition of Syracuse strengthens an already impressive non-conference slate for the 2015-16 Badgers. Along with two new series with Oklahoma and Temple set to begin this season, Wisconsin will play two games at Madison Square Garden to conclude the 2015 2K Classic. Inclusion in this exempt tournament prevents UW from participating in the inaugural Gavitt Tip-Off Games (which pair Big Ten and Big East teams), but the Badgers more than make up for it with their annual game against Marquette and the possibility of facing Georgetown and original Big East member Syracuse.
Take a look at how the non-conference schedule would look with the addition of the Orange:
|Date||Opponent (Ranking)||Location (Notes)||Source|
|Nov. 13-16||Radford (162) or Prairie View A&M||Madison, WI (2K Classic)||link|
|Nov. 13-16||Radford or Prairie View A&M (303)||Madison, WI (2K Classic)||link|
|Fri. Nov. 20||vs. Georgetown (24) or VCU (28)||New York - MSG (2K Classic)||link|
|Sun. Nov. 22||vs. Duke (4)/Georgetown/VCU||New York - MSG (2K Classic)||link|
|Sun. Nov. 29||@ Oklahoma (13)||Norman, OK||link|
|Wed. Dec. 2||@ Syracuse (59)||Syracuse, NY (B1G/ACC Challenge)||link|
|Sat. Dec. 5||Temple (54)||Madison, WI||link|
|Sat. Dec. 12||Marquette (110)||Madison, WI||link|
|TBD||Green Bay (68)||Madison, WI|
|TBD||Milwaukee (198)||Madison, WI|
The rankings listed above are each team's final KenPom.com rating rank for the 2014-15 season (more on that later). As you can see, with or without Syracuse, Wisconsin continues its recent tradition of compiling one of the strongest strength of schedule rankings in the country.
If I were to play devil's advocate to Katz, I would mention that Wisconsin could still wind up with a home game in next year's Challenge, since they are one game heavy in the away column during the series' 16-year history. A game against Syracuse would be UW's the fourth meeting with the Orange, who have never been to Madison. Furthermore, teams like Notre Dame, N.C. State, Louisville and Pittsburgh would also make interesting matchups against the Badgers. The retooled Cardinals are most likely to have a road game out of that group.
Still, facing a historic program like Syracuse would be a great challenge all Badger fans should welcome, especially in a year when Ryan needs to plug a few holes in his lineup.
In addition to the non-conference schedule, Wisconsin is guaranteed to square off twice with highly-regarded teams from Maryland, Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue during the Big Ten season. The Badgers will also host Michigan and Ohio State, though the league has not announced dates and times for its schedule yet.
Strength of schedule has become a hill to stand on for Wisconsin. Led by the coordination of scheduling guru Greg Gard and the resurgence of the Big Ten conference, Wisconsin's overall SOS ranked fourth, second, seventh, 12th and 11th over the past five years.
In the best-case scenario, the "non-buy" portion of the upcoming season I've laid out above averages a Pomeroy rating rank of 99.5, compared to an 82.1 average ranking for the non-buy games a year ago. The average Pomeroy ranking of all 13 of Wisconsin's pre-conference foes heading into last season (based on final 2013-14 numbers) was 131.85. Nine of those teams finished with higher rankings than the previous season, which is part of the reason UW's non-conference SOS (.6206) ranked 38th in the country according to KenPom.com.
As I mentioned, this isn't new. In 2013-14, Wisconsin's opponents averaged a 109.6 ranking over 10 non-buy games coming into the season; the Badgers' non-conference SOS wound up ranked 82nd (.5760). In 2012-13 the nine-game non-buy slate averaged a 111.66 ranking coming in and UW's non-con SOS ended up 241st (.4450) according to Pomeroy. That sounds bad, it's actually not unusual for a Power 5 contender and was the result of seven of their 13 non-conference foes regressing from the prior year.
With the Big Ten/ACC Challenge pairings set to be released any day now, everyone is guessing at the matchups. Rest assured, we'll dive into which players return for Syracuse, or whichever team Wisconsin faces, soon enough.
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.