As the 2021-22 men’s college basketball season gets underway, the Wisconsin Badgers are back with a new-look roster.

With the departure of seniors D’Mitrik Trice, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford, Micah Potter and Trevor Anderson, a new cast of characters comes forth for returning head coach Greg Gard’s team.

Led by returning fifth-year Brad Davison and junior Tyler Wahl, the Badgers still retain some talent and experience to help guide this new squad. With guards Jonathan Davis and true-freshman Chucky Hepburn expected to also receive significant minutes, Wisconsin enters the season with something to prove, not appearing in the AP Top-25.

The Big Ten has no shortage of talent, giving the Badgers a difficult path toward making the NCAA tournament. There are plenty of crucial games throughout the season, giving the Badgers plenty of opportunity to pad their resume.

Ohio State

Ohio State enters the season as a force to be reckoned with, with returning forwards EJ Liddell and Justice Sueing returning for another season. Both players averaged double-digit point totals last season, and the Badgers’ defense will surely be put to the test.

Expect to see the Badgers utilize a larger lineup to try and stop these two forwards. Wahl will especially be needed, and seven-foot sophomore center Steven Crowl may receive significant minutes. If the defense can manage to hold off the powerful Buckeye forwards, Wisconsin has a chance to gain their first statement conference win of the season.

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Purdue

The next important game the Badgers play and one of their most important of the season is Jan. 7 against Purdue. The Boilermakers are a popular pick among many to reach the Final Four, with an incredibly talented team and 13 of 14 players returning from last season.

Guard Jaden Ivey along with big men Trevion Williams and Zach Edey are expected to lead this team. The Badgers will certainly be faced with a tall task of stopping this Purdue offense.

With so many weapons to guard, Wisconsin may have to rely on big performances on the offensive side in order to stay in this game. Expect to see heavy volume from guards Davison and Davis to try and keep the game within reach.

Illinois

The next elite-level opponent that the Badgers will face is Illinois Feb. 2. The Fighting Illini were one of the best teams in all of college basketball last season, entering the tournament as a 1-seed but then knocked out on opening weekend.

With the departure of star point guard Ayo Dosunmu, the team does move down a tier, though they remain elite as star center Kofi Cockburn is still on the team despite being a projected draft pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Guards Andre Curbelo and Trent Frazier also provide star-power for this Illinois team, giving them potential to go far in the NCAA tournament this year.

Beating Illinois would be a statement win for the Badgers, and they would need to rely on the size of center Crowl to stop Cockburn and lead the team to a win.

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Michigan

Wisconsin’s next big matchup is No. 6 Michigan Feb. 20. The Wolverines enter the season as one of the top teams in the country with an incredibly well rounded lineup.

They have the top rated recruiting class in the country incoming, so they are packed with young talent that is expected to blossom as the season progresses. Expect this team to be especially strong by the time of this matchup in late February. The Badgers must play incredibly well in order to stop the Wolverines, and this win would be crucial toward their placement in the NCAA tournament.

Purdue, again

The final game on our list of top five upcoming games is round two with Purdue March 1. This is their last important game before the Big Ten conference tournament, and it could potentially be one of their most important games of the season. At this point, it will be known whether or not the Badgers are a team that could be a force in the NCAA Tournament, and if they are, this game could mean a ton.

Throughout the season, Wisconsin will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves and develop as a young, fresh team. Expect a fun and exciting season, as the Badgers will definitely be playing with a chip on their shoulder.