With only three regular season games standing between the Wisconsin Badgers and their second possible Big Ten title in as many years, the fate of achieving such an accolade is entirely in their hands.
Simply put, if UW runs the table and wins their final three games of the season they will win at least a share of the Big Ten title. They wouldn’t need any help from other teams and they’d also have the No.1 seed in the conference tournament March 13-16.
Unfortunately for Bo Ryan and the Badgers, however, such a feat is much easier said than done.
Currently in the Big Ten, there are five different teams all within a game and a half of the top spot in the conference, and among the remaining 18 games on the schedule for these five teams, 13 of them feature matchups against one another.
“I thought there was going to be some separation in there, but that’s just not the way in turned out,” Ryan commented at his Monday press conference. “This is not going to be solved until the last day.”
Among the obstacles to hurdle, as UW heads down the home stretch of conference play, are three teams all within grasp of the same end of the season honor the Badgers are striving to claim.
Wisconsin’s three remaining opponents ? Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois ? currently surround the Badgers in the Big Ten standings, clinging to first and a tie for third place, respectively. The Badgers win Saturday at Iowa pulled them into sole possession of second place.
While Wisconsin can take some solace in that two of these final three games are being played in the Kohl Center — where they haven’t lost a Big Ten game in nearly two years — the magnitude of these opponents is still cause for concern.
“If you were to ask any of the Big Ten coaches which three teams they’d rather not play down the stretch,” lamented Ryan. “A lot of them would probably have Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota on their lists.”
Interestingly enough, the Badgers opened their Big Ten season by taking on Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota in consecutive games.
Wisconsin dropped two out of three of these contests, losing by a combined seven points at Michigan and Illinois before handedly dismantling the Gophers 66-50 at the Kohl Center.
While the Badgers end their regular season March 5 hosting Illinois, the other four teams vying for the Big Ten title do not conclude their conference schedule until March 8.
Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois also have four games remaining on their schedule to Wisconsin’s three.
Although nothing is set in stone at this point, it is a likely assumption that if the Badgers can even just take care of their home court in defeating Michigan and Illinois, they will earn at least a share of the Big Ten title.
For this not to happen, Minnesota would have to win out its remaining four games of the season, a stretch that takes them to Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois and a home game against Wisconsin.
Again, if UW wins out, they are guaranteed at least a share of the title with Michigan, assuming that the Wolverines run the table as well after coming to Madison.
On the flip side, if Wisconsin does not win Wednesday night’s showdown against Michigan, there is virtually no chance for the Badgers to claim even a share of the conference title.
A loss Wednesday night would put the Badgers two games out of first place with two games to play. Wisconsin’s only hope for a title at this point would require them to win at Minnesota and at home against Illinois, and have Michigan lose two of their final three games, one of those being at Penn State and the other two being played at home in Crisler Arena.
So while the Badgers know exactly what they have to do in order to claim their second consecutive Big Ten title, the issue is far from being resolved. If UW can do what they’ve done since Ryan took over the program, win conference games at the Kohl Center, things will work out nicely for the Badgers.
“We’re in the race, that’s all you can ask for is a chance,” Ryan said. “We have a chance and we’re playing teams that have a chance, and it’s exciting.”