For everything the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team has accomplished to date this season — and there’s plenty on that list — one reality looms once the calendar flips to 2019:
Now comes the hard part.
The Badgers (10-2), who will complete the non-conference portion of their schedule on Saturday with a game at Western Kentucky (6-6), moved up one spot Monday to No. 15 in the Associated Top 25 poll.
More importantly, UW is No. 4 in the NET rankings, the metric now being used to evaluate teams for placement and seeding in the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers’ most impressive wins, based on the NET rankings, were against North Carolina State (6), Oklahoma (15) and Iowa (36). The latter two were away from home, and the one over the Hawkeyes was a true road win.
The only blemishes on UW’s schedule were both quality losses: to Virginia (2) in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis and at Marquette (13) in overtime.
“I think we like where we are, but we’re definitely not satisfied,” UW sophomore guard Brad Davison said recently. “We know our record could be better. We’ve lost a couple games (that were close), against really good teams. But we know how good of a team we are, we’re confident with that.”
And yet the Badgers’ work is far from over.
The Big Ten sent only four teams to the NCAA tournament last season, but that number could double this season. In fact, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has 10 Big Ten teams in his most recent bracketology projection.
There are six Big Ten teams among the top 20 of the NET rankings: Michigan (3), UW, Michigan State (9), Nebraska (14), Indiana (16) and Ohio State (19). Four more teams from the conference — Iowa (36), Purdue (38), Northwestern (44), Minnesota (47) — are among the top 50, and Maryland (52) is hovering just outside that group.
“The bulk of our schedule is coming up,” Davison said, “and we’ll have to be locked in and ready to go.”
Here’s a look around the Big Ten as the Badgers and others get closer to resuming conference play:
Record: 4-8, 0-2 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidate: Sophomore guard Trent Frazier (16.5 ppg).
The good: The Illini force 17.9 turnovers per game, the most in the Big Ten. Opponents are giving the ball away on 24.7 percent of their possessions, according to KenPom.
The bad: Opponents have attempted 107 more free throws than Illinois.
Record: 11-2, 2-0 Big Ten
All-Big Ten candidates: Freshman guard Romeo Langford (17.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg); and senior forward Juwan Morgan (16.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg).
The good: The Hoosiers are 4-1 in games decided by three or fewer points.
The bad: Indiana is shooting 63.5 percent from the free throw line. Morgan is at 56.8 percent.
Record: 10-2, 0-2 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Bryant on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Junior forward Tyler Cook (16.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg); and sophomore center Luka Garza (12.7 ppg).
The good: The Hawkeyes average 29.6 free throw attempts per game, which ranks third nationally. Cook averages 6.8 attempts per game.
The Bad: Iowa’s defense is improved from last season – there was really nowhere to go but up – but it’s still not great. The Hawkeyes rank 89th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
Record: 9-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Radford on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (17.0 ppg), sophomore forward Bruno Fernando (14.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.6 bpg) and freshman forward Jalen Smith (11.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
The good: The Terrapins rank 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, an effort led by Fernando and Smith.
The bad: Maryland is 0-2 vs. teams in the top 40 of KenPom. The Terrapins’ best win was against Penn State (No. 46) at home.
Record: 12-0, 2-0 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Binghamton on Sunday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis (16.1 ppg), junior guard Charles Matthews (14.5 ppg), sophomore guard Jordan Poole (13.2 ppg) and junior guard Zavier Simpson (7.1 ppg, 5.9 apg).
The good: The Wolverines are No. 4 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Opponents are shooting 38.3 percent from the field against Michigan.
The bad: Not much, really. Michigan is shooting 65.5 percent from the line, which ranks No. 12 in the Big Ten, and players such as Matthews (62.3 percent) and Simpson (41.2) will be targets in late-game fouling situations.
Record: 10-2, 2-0 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Northern Illinois on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Junior point guard Cassius Winston (16.9 ppg, 7.5 apg), junior forward Nick Ward (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and junior guard Joshua Langford (16.0 ppg).
The good: Michigan State is ranked No. 3 in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Spartans shoot well from 3-point range and are ranked in the top 25 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
The bad: The Spartans turn the ball over on 17.4 percent of their possessions, which ranks 84th nationally. That’s not exactly a new issue for Michigan State – which has only ranked in the top 100 in that category once in the KenPom era – but it’s an area that could be cleaned up.
Record: 10-2, 1-1 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Senior forward Jordan Murphy (16.2 ppg, 12.9 rpg) and junior guard Amir Coffey (15.3 ppg).
The good: The Gophers, especially Murphy and freshman center Daniel Oturu, are relentless on the offensive glass. Minnesota also spends a lot of time at the foul line.
The bad: Freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur is shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range, but he’s the Gophers’ only consistent perimeter threat. The rest of the team is a combined 39 of 143 (27.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
Record: 10-2, 1-1 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Senior guard James Palmer Jr. (19.9 ppg), senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. (14.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and senior guard Glynn Watson Jr. (13.4 ppg).
The good: Opponents are shooting 37.9 percent overall and 26.6 percent from 3-point range against the Cornhuskers.
The bad: Nebraska lacks depth beyond its senior-laden starting five. Bench players account for 22.8 percent of the team’s minutes, which ranks No. 332 nationally and 13th in the Big Ten.
Record: 8-4, 0-2 Big Ten
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Columbia on Sunday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Senior forward Vic Law (18.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and senior center Dererk Pardon (14.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg).
The good: After playing third fiddle to Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, Law has emerged as a go-to player in his final seasons with the Wildcats. His scoring average has increased by almost seven points and he’s also gone up in rebounds, assists and steals.
The bad: The Wildcats’ non-conference body of work isn’t very impressive. They’re 0-4 vs. teams in the top 65 of the KenPom ratings and their best win came at home against Georgia Tech (No. 102 in KenPom).
Record: 11-1, 2-0 Big Ten.
Remaining non-conference game: vs. High Point on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Sophomore center Kaleb Wesson (16.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and senior guard C.J. Jackson (13.1 ppg).
The good: While Wesson has emerged as a star, the Buckeyes have plenty of complementary scoring options. Seven players average at least 7.0 points per game.
The bad: Can Ohio State’s depleted frontcourt hold up in the Big Ten? The departure of Micah Potter before the start of the season – the junior center announced earlier this month he’s transferring to UW – left Ohio State with three players who are 6-foot-8 and taller: Wesson, freshman backup Jaedon Lee and sophomore forward Kyle Young.
Record: 6-6, 0-2 Big Ten.
Remaining non-conference schedule: vs. Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Junior forward Lamar Stevens (19.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and freshman guard Rasir Bolton (13.8 ppg).
The good: The Nittany Lions are No. 13 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. They’ve done it despite the fact their primary rim protector, junior center Mike Watkins, has been limited to seven games.
The bad: Penn State is No. 127 in adjusted offensive efficiency and shoots poorly from all over. While Stevens is the team’s top scorer, he’s also part of the problem. The junior is 7 of 39 from 3-point range (17.9 percent) and has averaged 15.0 points over the past seven games after averaging 24.8 in the first five games. More bad news for Penn State: Its first five games in January are against opponents who are currently ranked.
Record: 7-5, 1-1 Big Ten.
Remaining non-conference opponent: vs. Belmont on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Junior guard Carsen Edwards (26.0 ppg) and senior guard Ryan Cline (13.9 ppg).
The good: The Boilermakers have a top 10 offense, thanks, in large part, to Edwards. The Big Ten Player of the Year candidate is shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 89.4 percent from the free throw line.
The bad: Opponents are shooting 43.5 percent overall and 38.0 percent from 3-point range against Purdue, which ranks No. 74 in adjusted defensive efficiency. On the other end, how does Purdue score if Edwards, who has the sixth-highest usage rate in the nation, has an off night?
Record: 6-5, 0-2 Big Ten.
Remaining non-conference game: vs. Maine on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Junior forward Eugene Omoruyi (15.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and sophomore guard Geo Baker (14.4 ppg, 4.6 apg).
The good: Omoruyi has made a huge jump from his sophomore season, when he averaged 7.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
The bad: A lot, especially on the offensive end. The Scarlet Knights rank last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
Record: 10-2, 2-0 Big Ten.
Remaining non-conference game: at Western Kentucky on Saturday.
All-Big Ten candidates: Senior center Ethan Happ (19.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 5.0 apg) and sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice (15.9 ppg).
The good: Happ is playing at an All-American level and Trice has improved dramatically after missing much of last season with a foot injury. They form a dynamic 1-2 punch on a team ranked in the top 20 nationally in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
The bad: Happ’s free throw shooting (51.0 percent) is still a concern, though he’s made 11 of his last 15 attempts over two games. And it would take some of the pressure off Happ and Trice if Brad Davison – or perhaps sophomore forward Nate Reuvers – emerges as a consistent No. 3 scorer.