Wisconsin’s basketball season has been anything but typical considering how well the program has performed over the last two decades. Wisconsin closed the regular season with a 68-63 loss against No. 2 Michigan State on Sunday, which dropped the Badgers to 14-17 overall and 7-11 in the Big Ten.
Now, No. 9 seed Wisconsin must regroup and prepare to play No. 8 seed Maryland (19-12, 8-10) on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. Here’s a look at what will be on the line for the Badgers and how they arrived at this point:
What’s at stake for Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament?
Wisconsin has qualified for 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, which is tied for the sixth-longest active streak alongside Gonzaga. The only teams with a longer active streak are Kansas (28), North Carolina (27), Arizona (25), Duke (22) and Michigan State (20).
That unbelievable run of success is likely coming to an end this season for Wisconsin, which must run the table in the Big Ten Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
There is recent history that suggests Wisconsin could pull off a stunning feat. Last season, No. 8 seed Michigan won four games in four days to earn the Big Ten’s automatic berth as conference tournament champions. Along the way, Michigan defeated No. 1 seed Purdue, No. 4 seed Minnesota and No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the title game.
What does Wisconsin need to do to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth?
There’s only one way for Wisconsin to earn a trip to the Big Dance, and that’s by miraculously winning four games in four days to capture an automatic berth as Big Ten Tournament champions.
Wisconsin has won the Big Ten Tournament three times since its inception in 1998. But the Badgers were seeded no worse than No. 2 in those instances. Wisconsin was a No. 2 seed in 2004, a No. 1 seed in 2008 and a No. 1 seed in 2015. The Badgers have finished second on three other occasions.
If Wisconsin somehow punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with four victories, its record would be 18-17. That would almost guarantee the Badgers would be in an NCAA Tournament play-in game in Dayton, Ohio.
How did Wisconsin get here?
This season was likely going to be a rebuilding campaign no matter what, given that All-America forward Ethan Happ was the only returning starter. But when guards Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice suffered season-ending injuries in December, the Badgers’ challenge became even more difficult. At the time, Wisconsin’s record was 4-6.
Those injuries forced freshman Brad Davison to slide over from the off-guard spot and assume heavy minutes as the primary point guard. It also created significant depth issues, with coach Greg Gard having to rely on walk-ons or former walk-ons to fill in the gaps. Davison performed admirably but also dealt with a left shoulder injury that hampered his mobility for most of the season.
Following a victory against Indiana on Jan. 2, Wisconsin’s record was 9-7 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. But during a stretch of Big Ten play from Jan. 5 to Feb. 4, Wisconsin went 1-8, which essentially sealed the Badgers’ NCAA Tournament fate. Wisconsin rallied with strong play down the stretch and knocked off No. 6 Purdue, highlighting what could be possible for the Badgers next season.
If Wisconsin can play sound defense to keep itself in the game, perhaps it could make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. Happ (17.9 points) and Davison (12.1 points) have led the team all season, with Davison coming off a career-high 30-point game against Michigan State in the regular-season finale. But Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson, Nate Reuvers and Aleem Ford are capable of stepping up in big moments. Pritzl and Iverson have developed into strong defensive players down the stretch.
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