Wisconsin State Journal reporter Jim Polzin breaks down five things to Badgers fans should know about the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's schedule for the 2018-19 season.
1. BACK TO PARADISE
The Badgers’ first trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, back in 2014, was a memorable piece of a special season.
UW beat Alabama-Birmingham, Georgetown and Oklahoma to win the title en route to a program-record 36 wins that season.
The Badgers return four years later, but they won’t be the favorite in a field that includes four teams that made the NCAA tournament last season.
UW opens with Stanford, the first meeting between the programs since 1994.
The Badgers’ next game will be against either Florida or Oklahoma. Both are familiar opponents: This would be the fourth meeting in seven seasons with the Gators, who eliminated the Badgers from the 2017 NCAA tournament in an 84-83 overtime thriller, and the fourth meeting in five seasons with the Sooners.
And there’s also the possibility of recognizable face — former UW assistant Tony Bennett and Virginia — on the final day of the tournament. This would be the fourth meeting in seven seasons between the Badgers and the Cavaliers, who will arrive on Paradise Island as a heavy favorite in the eight-team field.
2. EARLY OPPORTUNITIES
By the time the calendar flips to December, it’s possible the Badgers will have played six games against opponents from power conferences.
In addition to the trip to the Bahamas — where there’s the potential of a Stanford-Florida-Virginia sequence or perhaps a Stanford-Florida-Butler string — UW will travel to Xavier for a Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup and will host North Carolina State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Badgers will end the month with a game at Iowa to open Big Ten play.
UW exited November last season with a 3-4 record, with all four of those defeats coming against opponents that were ranked when the Badgers played them. That difficult stretch began with UW falling to Xavier, Baylor and UCLA in a span of six games, with all three of those games being close down the stretch.
3. MATCHUPS ON HOLD
For the first time since the 1991-92 season, the Badgers’ regular-season schedule won’t include either UW-Green Bay or UW-Milwaukee.
The Badgers and Phoenix have played each of the past 19 seasons, but that streak will end in 2018-19.
Meanwhile, the Badgers and Panthers don’t have a game scheduled for only the second time in 27 seasons. The teams didn’t meet in 2016-17, either.
An expanded Big Ten schedule means two fewer non-conference games for UW. And while fans would much rather see the Badgers host an in-state rival instead of, say, Grambling State or Coppin State, it’s more complicated than that.
Seven of UW’s 11 non-conference games have been set in stone for a while. They include the three games in the Bahamas, one in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, another in the Gavitt Tipoff Games and trips to Marquette and Western Kentucky. That leaves four “buy” games for the Badgers, with limited dates available and the challenge of those dates working for UW-Milwaukee and/or UW-Green Bay.
This season, those puzzle pieces didn’t fit together for the Badgers and their in-state companions.
4. LET'S PLAY TWO (MORE)
Big Ten coaches and players always describe conference play as a grind.
It’ll be even more strenuous after the slate was bumped up two games to 20.
The Badgers were picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten in a preseason poll of 28 media members from around the conference.
Of the seven teams UW plays twice this season, six finished below the Badgers in the standings. That group includes Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern and Illinois.
Among the projected top five teams in the Big Ten, the only one the Badgers play twice is Michigan.
Another potential schedule break for UW: It doesn’t have to play at Michigan State, where it’s lost 10 in a row since 2004.
But the Badgers’ only games against Indiana and Nebraska, which are picked to finish second and third, respectively, are on the road.
5. SWEET HOME CHICAGO
After trips to Washington and New York the past two seasons for the Big Ten tournament, the event returns to the Midwest this season. The United Center in Chicago will host it from March 13-17.
Last season was particularly odd for the Big Ten because it held its postseason tournament a week early so it could be held at Madison Square Garden in New York.
But the Big Ten tournament returns to its normal weekend, in a host city that is much more accessible to most of the conference’s fan base.