All regular season long, we heard about how the tough schedule the Wisconsin Badgers played would pay dividends in the long run. At the time I don’t think anyone knew just how well the pay-off would be. The Badgers road to the Final Four was paved by playing one of the toughest schedules in all of college basketball.
Bo Ryan knew that if this team was to be successful heading into the NCAA Tournament, they would have to be tested early in the regular season.
Remember who came to Madison in the second game? That would be none other than the NCAA Tournament number one overall seed and SEC regular season and tournament champion Florida Gators. Now Florida may have been without some of their best players for that game, but the fact of the matter is Wisconsin beat a good Florida team that night.
A trip to Titletown, USA saw the Badgers squeak one out against the Phoenix of UW-Green Bay (Horizon League regular season champion) 69-66. The Badgers then went on to defeat the Atlantic-10 regular season champions St. Louis Billikens. Spoiler alert: there’s a theme starting to build here.
Wisconsin’s first true road test came at Virginia, where they defeated the Cavaliers 48-38 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Oh and did I mention that Virginia was a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and they won the regular season ACC championship and conference tournament championship? Tony Bennett’s squad is pretty good.
Wins over Bo Ryan’s former stomping ground of UW-Milwaukee (Horizon League tournament champion), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley Conference tournament champions) and Prairie View A&M saw Wisconsin go through their vigorous non-conference schedule undefeated.
Big Ten play followed and as everyone knows, that is one of the toughest conferences in the nation. A few bumps and bruises (and flu cases) brought five losses in six games, but Wisconsin kept trucking along.
They defeated Michigan State (Big Ten tournament champions), a team that made a deep run all the way to the Elite Eight and highly regarded as a favorite to win the national championship (I’m looking at you, ESPN!). The Badgers continued to roll as they defeated Michigan (Big Ten regular season champions) on the road. Michigan also made a run to the Elite Eight as well.
So were you able to catch onto the theme? If you guessed eight victories over teams that were regular season conference champs, conference tournament champs or both, you are a winner. No other team in college basketball can say that they have beat eight conference champions. Add in the NCAA Tournament and that total jumps to 10, with victories over American and Arizona. That’s saying a lot about the toughness of this team.
On Saturday the Badgers take on the Kentucky Wildcats, a young but very good team that is hot as anyone right now. Wisconsin is not rattled by any means. They’ve been preparing for this moment all season long.
Final Four tickets have fallen to their lowest point yet. Check out TiqIQ.com for the best deals