With just two regular season games remaining, and given the bounce-back success of Head Coach Greg Gard’s 2018-19 unit, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (20-9) are fifth in the Big Ten with a chance to earn the coveted four seed in the conference tournament.
So, what will it take for Wisconsin to earn that coveted four seed, and what do the Badgers need to do over their last two games regardless of seeding?
Wisconsin already accomplished one task by defeating a soaring Penn State team at home. They will face an offensive juggernaut in Iowa on senior night and a tough Ohio State team on the road. There is a good chance they can lock up the four seed and earn the double-bye in the Big Ten conference tournament if they can win out.
With fourteen teams in the conference, the top four finishers in the Big Ten’s regular season earn a bye through the first two rounds of the tournament, granting rest for those top four teams as well as favorable matchups.
Last Tuesday night’s heartbreaking and exhausting last-second loss to Indiana in double overtime cost the Badgers a tie with Maryland for fourth in the conference at 12-5.
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At that moment, it seemed as if the Badgers chances for the four seed and double-bye had completely slipped through their fingers.
But Penn State proved last Wednesday night that their hot streak is for real in a decisive win over Maryland at home.
This means that Wisconsin sits in the same position of opportunity they were in prior to the Indiana loss, but this time with one fewer game to change their fortune.
A half game up on Wisconsin, Maryland finishes their season with two home games. One against a top 10 team in Michigan and the other against a Minnesota team desperately searching for a big road win to build their bubble resume for the NCAA Tournament.
Even though Wisconsin split their home-and-away series with Maryland this season, if both teams win out and finish 14-6 in conference, Maryland would win the battle for the four seed because this means they picked up more wins against the top three teams in the conference in Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State.
Due to this, the only way Wisconsin can get the four seed and double-bye in the tournament is if Wisconsin finishes one game better than Maryland.
This is entirely possible — however, the Badgers do not control a lot of their own destiny as they need Michigan and or Minnesota to beat Maryland.
If the Badgers finish the season fourth in the Big Ten they would await the winner between the five seed — likely Maryland — and whoever wins between the 12 and 13 seeds beforehand, which could be a variety of teams at this point.
This bye would give the team an extra day to rest and prepare while the five seed risks the chance of either losing before the matchup with the four seed or becoming fatigued as the conference tournament runs on consecutive days.
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If the Badgers do not get the four seed it is highly likely they land the five seed, though a loss to Iowa could lead them to sixth.
The lowest seed Wisconsin can get in the conference tournament is seven.
Though this would take Wisconsin losing their final three games and Ohio State winning their final three games, we will label that possibility unlikely.
Due to Wisconsin playing the 11th most difficult schedule in college basketball this year, their overall success against conference and non-conference foes and their ability to win on the road, the Badgers seem comfortably in the NCAA Tournament regardless of how their regular season ends.
This should not deter them from playing their hardest over the final two games. There is a lot to play for and a lot for this team to clean up.
Most notably, the Badgers need to improve their free throw shooting.
On the season, the team shoots a lousy 64.6 percent from the charity stripe. Wisconsin’s methodical offense and stingy defense usually put them in low scoring close games and when you play those types of games you have to hit free throws throughout and especially at the end to ensure victory.
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If Wisconsin wants to make a run, this aspect of their game is priority number one for improvement.
Additionally, the Badgers need to rely on role players such as Khalil Iverson, Brevin Pritzl, Kobe King and Aleem Ford to add to the scoring depth of the offense. Getting these guys more involved will open up more opportunities for the starters.
“We need more people to contribute,” Iverson said. “It gives us a better chance of winning and … it takes the stress off guys who normally score most of the points for us.”
Wisconsin also needs to be more consistent from deep. They rank as one of the top teams in the country in three-point percentage at 38.2 percent, but two of their past three games they have shot 27 percent and it almost cost them in one case and actually did in the other.
“We’re going to take things one game at a time, every win moving out and every game is a huge opportunity,” sophomore guard Brad Davison said. “It’s also a huge challenge, we’ve got a big target on out back along with everyone else at the top of the Big Ten right now, so we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
Keep an eye out for these aspects of Wisconsin’s game over the course of these last couple games during the regular season.
Improvement in these areas may go a long way in determining where the Badger’s regular season will end and how they will be ranked in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Badgers will play Iowa at home Thursday at 7 p.m. before they finish out their season on the road versus The Ohio State.