The Wisconsin Badgers stormed out of the gates to start the 2013-14 college basketball season 16-0. That terrific start, the best in school history, took them all the way up to the No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press Poll. Rising sophomore Sam Dekker was emerging as a star, and big man Frank Kaminsky had developed into one of the better and more versatile scoring big men in the entire country.
Bo Ryan‘s team was a legitimate national championship contender. They had great depth, experience and played with tremendous poise. All was well up in Madison. All until January 14, that is.
What followed was a brutal stretch of basketball that saw the Badgers lose 5 out of 6 Big Ten Conference games. In a flash, they went from 16-0 to 17-5 and major questions began to arise. In the midst of the stretch, Wisconsin was really struggling defensively and they were handled at the Kohl Center by a very mediocre Northwestern team.
Much was made of nothing though as now, the Badgers have clearly regained their mojo. They’ve won six straight games games and are one of the hottest teams in America. Every Big Ten team this year has dealt with a rough patch in their respective schedules, and that should have been expected with how deep of a league it has become.
As March so closely nears, the Badgers are back to looking like that 16-0 team again. Over the last three weeks, their play has been exceptional and has included wins over Michigan State at home and at Iowa and Michigan. Including Wisconsin, these are without question the conference’s top four teams.
In accounting for those wins as well as what Ryan’s bunch did in the non-conference, the Badgers are — believe it or not — still absolutely in play for a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament. Yes, take a moment to process that, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is still very well within Wisconsin’s reach.
I’ve mentioned what they’ve done in conference, but in the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Badgers did perhaps more work than any other team in college basketball. This work encompasses wins over No. 1 Florida, No. 10 Saint Louis and at 12th ranked Virginia. The NCAA tournament selection committee is about to encounter a pretty darn impressive resume. If the Badgers keep winning, things will get mighty interesting. And on top of all of that, Wisconsin has the country’s fifth-best RPI while having the 2nd best strength of schedule (SOS), according to ESPNs statistics. Furthermore, Ryan and company are 8-3 against teams with RPIs in the top 50.
The Wisconsin Badgers close out the regular season at Penn State, at home against Purdue and at Nebraska. Let’s say they run the table and wind up at 26-5 and 13-5 in conference heading into the Big Ten Tourney. With the body of work that their resume provides, regardless of how they do in Indianapolis, a #1 seed appears to be a very real possibility.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27