The Wisconsin men's basketball team has clawed back onto the bubble thanks to its current five-game winning streak. Toppling Michigan State three weeks ago was step one, in essence cancelling out the ugly road loss to Northwestern. Step two was accomplished when UW upended a hot Indiana team on Jan. 26.
With a win over Nebraska at home Wednesday night, the Badgers will be in position to finish with a winning conference record, with three very winnable games left against Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. Wisconsin controls its own destiny with plenty of opportunities for huge road wins against throughout February.
Once again we dive into a list of UW's previous opponents and how their seasons are going, which collectively have a substantial effect on how the selection committee will view Wisconsin's resume.
Western Illinois (8-13)
Last Wednesday the Leathernecks snapped an 11-games losing streak, picking up their first win in Summit League play. Yeah, they're still bad.
The Big East has eaten up a few teams and Georgetown is one of them. The Hoyas are 5-5 in the last month and can expect to miss out on the NCAAs unless they catch fire. L.J. Peak has emerged as the new second option behind D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, but those two cannot do it alone against such a tough closing schedule.
Consider the Rams the anti-Leathernecks. It was a good early win for Wisconsin that keeps looking better and better. George Washington upset VCU the last time out, but it was the Rams' first loss in 13 games. First-year head coach Will Wade and the Rams find themselves locked up with Dayton atop the Atlantic 10 with 9-1 conference records with eight games to go. VCU travels to Dayton for the regular season finale on March 5.
No. 3 Oklahoma (20-3)
A Buddy Hield three-pointer capped Oklahoma's 41-point second half as it survived Texas on Monday night. Hield scored the final 12 points himself and is in the driver's seat to succeed Frank Kaminsky as the college player of the year. Though the Sooners have dropped couple of tough ones away from home, they still have the look of a Final Four team. Perhaps even more impressive, Oklahoma joins West Virginia as real threats to Kansas' 11-year grip on the Big 12 title.
With Jim Boeheim back on the bench, the Orange have gone 6-2 in the ACC with a bizarre schedule. Syracuse began with two road games, followed by three home games, then three more road games and now is enjoying a nine-day layoff before the close of a four-game conference home stand. Four Syracuse players all scored 14 apiece when the Orange upset Duke at Cameron Indoor last month, while both losses (to North Carolina, at Virginia) were respectable.
The Temple Owls have been playing pretty well of late, scoring a double-overtime win against Cincinnati and a late-January win over SMU. Speaking of SMU, with the Mustangs ineligible for postseason play, Temple is in great shape in the American Athletic Conference picture. Five of Temple's last eight games are at home, including a huge match up with Connecticut in Philly this Thursday.
The Panthers have lost three of their last four to fall well behind Valparaiso in the Horizon League standings. It won't get any easier either, as Milwaukee is predicted to lose the final three games of a brutal five-game road trip before finishing with four home games. The only way for this Badger loss to be redeemed is for UWM to win its league tournament and garner an automatic NCAA bid.
Marquette hasn't been winning much against Big East teams not named St. John's this season. A 57-56 home loss to DePaul three weeks ago was the low point. Henry Ellenson's efficiency numbers have dipped during conference play, but he's put together enough monster performances on the glass and with his shot blocking to ensure he's a one-hit wonder in the Cream City. Due to the rigors of the Big East this season, Marquette doesn't have to win out to make the tournament, yet it will be an underdog in almost every game from here on out.
No. 18 Purdue (19-5)
Purdue is settling in as a solid, if unspectacular, Top 25 team. Despite fielding an elite defensive unit, the Boilermakers' bouts of terribly inefficient offense has kept them from racking up any truly impressive victories yet. Purdue's best win of the season may wind up being a toss up between Florida, Pittsburgh, and (wait for it...) Wisconsin. Point guard P.J. Thompson is the most efficient player in the country thanks to his tiny usage rate, but it's been Vince Edwards carrying much of the scoring load. The Boilers get a shot at Michigan State Tuesday night, as well as Indiana and Maryland at the end of the month. Regardless of those outcomes, a Wisconsin win over Purdue in Mackey to end the season would still be a giant statement game.
A shocking loss to Penn State on Saturday slowed the Hoosiers' momentum after recovering from its setback in Madison. All things considered, Indiana has played well since losing James Blackmon Jr. to a season-ending knee injury. Improved team defense and ball movement has led to a 6-2 record against an admittedly soft schedule. Indiana's Big Ten schedule is back-loaded, so it will be very challenging for IU to keep pace with Iowa. Unfortunately, I'd expect Wisconsin's impressive win on Jan. 26 to lose some value.
No. 2 Maryland (21-3)
Bounce back wins over Iowa and Purdue at home have helped push the Terrapins near the top of the polls this week. Maryland has a bye week essentially, playing Bowie State on Tuesday, before resuming conference play against the Badgers. Wisconsin should carry plenty of confidence into the game considering the close outcome at the Kohl Center a month ago. But the Terps possess the most efficient defense in the conference while getting scoring contributions from a rotating selection of its all-star cast.
Clearly Northwestern peaked with its win over the Badgers on Jan. 12. The Wildcats lost their next five games before recovering with a home win over Minnesota -- just what the doctor ordered for any ailing Big Ten team. Northwestern is still relying on its outside shooting, though its three-point percentages have taken a nosedive. Luckily there are plenty of winnable games left for the Wildcats, which should prevent Bucky's loss from teetering into "bad loss" territory.
No. 8 Michigan State (20-4)
Big wins over Maryland and at rival Michigan have righted the ship for Tom Izzo's bunch after a three-game losing streak that Wisconsin helped prolong. Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine are on fire right now and the way the Spartans are teeing off from three-point land makes them one of the scariest teams in the nation. Michigan State is shooting 47-of-80 (58.8%) on threes over the last three games, with Forbes hitting 17-of-23 (73.9%) on his own. En fuego!
Ohio State (14-10)
As Wisconsin found out first hand, Ohio State's youth is a blessing and a curse. Freshman JaQuan Lyle busted out of his mini-slump to pin 27 points on UW, and he'll need to be consistently good over the next four games to have a prayer of going dancing. Because the Buckeyes lost to the Badgers in what may have been an NCAA elimination game, Ohio State needs to win the next four, then steal at least one of the final three against Michigan State and Iowa.