Many believe this is the best Wisconsin Badgers team Bo Ryan has ever had during his 13 years in Madison. That’s debatable since he’s had teams briefly ranked number one and three teams which won at least a share of the Big Ten Title.
Nonetheless, we will soon find out if it’s his best because the Badgers are set up nicely in arguably the year’s easiest region.
Here’s a comprehensive list of the 15 teams standing in the way of Bo Ryan’s first ever Final Four.
#16 Weber St. (19-11) - Let’s be serious, the Wildcats will not make it all the way to the Elite 8, so I won’t waste your valuable bracket-mulling time.
#15 American U. (20-12) – The Patriot League champions are a defensive-minded team who have held their opponents to 58.6 points per game. They would have a shot against the Badgers if they didn’t turn over the ball so much. The #15 seeds are 7-109 all-time against #2 seeds and fwiw, the Eagles lost at Ohio State by 11 points.
#14 LA-Lafayette (23-11) – The Ragin’ Cajuns are realistically a team who could unexpectedly knock off the Badgers if they’re playing their best basketball like they are right now. They’re 11-2 in there last 13 and have dynamic guard Elfrid Payton who could expose the Badgers weakness inside. Highly unlikely they get past Creighton/Baylor/Nebraska though.
#13 New Mexico St. (26-9) – The Aggies have 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar. The only issue is that he’s not a very skilled big man. Frank Kaminsky would be able to take full advantage of his counterpart in this match-up.
#12 North Dakota St. (25-6) – The Bison are a common Cinderella pick this year and rightfully so as their 50.9 field goal percentage ranks first in the nation. I have my doubts though as North Dakota St. fell at Ohio State by 17 in a game that was never really close. On the flipside, if senior guard Taylor Braun (18.2 ppg) gets hot, anything can happen.
#11 Nebraska (19-12) – The Cornhuskers knocked off the Badgers in their only match-up this season behind the penetration of Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. They needed every bit of the home-court advantage in the 77-68 win and likely wouldn’t have that advantage a second time around. The Badgers would also have extra motivation to get back at the Cornhuskers for the loss in their season finale.
#10 BYU (23-11) – Losing Kyle Collinsworth in the WCC Tournament made the Cougars a surprising selection this year. Tyler Haws puts up 23.4 points per game for an offense that blisters its way to 84.2 points per game (3rd in the NCAA). If the Badgers were to somehow fall in to the Cougars pace, they could lose, but that’s not likely. The Badgers usually dictate the pace.
#9 Oklahoma State (21-12) – If the Cowboys were to turn some heads and make it to the Elite 8, this is a team the Badgers would not want to see. Oklahoma State would be hot off the upset of Arizona and Marcus Smart is NBA-ready. Even if the Badgers game-plan to contain Smart, there’s no way they can stop all of their talented guards.
#8 Gonzaga (28-6) – The Zags didn’t beat any team in the top 25 because they didn’t play any ranked teams. This team is efficient on both sides of the court, but that’s easy to see when you coasted through a weak schedule.
#7 Oregon (23-9) – Fifth year senior and UNLV transfer Mike Moser leads a balanced Ducks squad that the Badgers will likely see in the second round. Oregon is 8-1 over their past nine and do it by scoring 81.8 points per game (11th in the nation). The Badgers would most likely have to run up and down the court with these guys. Good thing the Badgers have home-court advantage in Milwaukee.
#6 Baylor (24-11) – While NMSU has an unskilled big man, Baylor has a skilled one in 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin. If Baylor can ride their hot 10-2 record in to the tournament, they could see the Badgers in the sweet 16. The Bears would certainly give Wisconsin problems on the boards.
#5 Oklahoma (23-9) – A lot of people have the Sooners an early exit, but let’s say they do make it through the first few rounds. They would be a mismatch for the Badgers, another opponent who loves to run up and down the court which is a contrast to UW’s Big Ten style of basketball. Wisconsin can run, but they don’t do it often.
#4 San Diego St. (29-4) – The Aztecs are probably the most similar to the Badgers in this region as they lean heavily on their defense and prefer a slow pace. Wisconsin doesn’t have anyone near as good as senior guard Xavier Thames though. San Diego St. also has a superb coach in Steve Fisher.
#3 Creighton (26-7) – Doug McDermott and the Bluejays are a common Sweet 16 opponent for people who have the Badgers surviving. If Wisconsin can slow down Creighton who wants to run (79.5 ppg and no defense), it could be an easy game for the Badgers. As McDermott goes, Creighton goes.
#1 Arizona (30-4) – The Wildcats could have the best defense in the nation, but it’s their offense that’s been inconsistent since forward Brandon Ashley was lost to an injury. Guard Nick Johnson is the x-factor with this team and the Badgers have a plethora of guards who can guard the rock.
What teams do you think can give the Badgers fits and which one will ultimately take them out? Or will they win the region? Let me know by commenting below.
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys sharing Fantasy Advice and pretends to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at email@example.com.
*Pictures obtained from uwbadgers.com and cbssports.com