Wisconsin Basketball: February outlook

Andy Manis/AP photo

Andy Manis/AP photo

Let the free fall continue for the Wisconsin Basketball team.

On Saturday Ohio State defeated the Badgers 59-58, their fifth loss in the past six games including three straight at home. Due to Wisconsin’s recent struggle, the Badgers are now completely out of the Associated Press top 25, when only 20 days ago they were ranked 3rd in the nation.

This came as no surprise. It was only a matter of time until Wisconsin lost their ranking completely. Now, the Badgers are sitting in fifth place in the Big Ten standings. Their 4-5 conference record ties them with Ohio State, Minnesota, and Indiana. All are teams they have lost to.

So what’s next for this Badger team? With nine games remaining in the regular season Wisconsin is more than capable of turning things around. While hopes are high for the Badgers, these nine games also can also plummet them even further into the hole they’ve dug for themselves.

At this point, missing the NCAA tournament would be highly unlikely. If the Badgers can come away with at least three more wins they will obtain a 20 win season. If accomplished, it will almost guarantee a 16th consecutive appearance into “The Big Dance.” Seeding however, is key. Prior to Saturdays game, bracket guru Joe Lunardi had Wisconsin placed as a five seed. Not bad by any means. This gets you thinking: what could another miserable month do to the Badgers seeding?

February will be a huge month for Wisconsin. There is nothing more important than gaining momentum into March. Every game, win or lose, will be key for building this team’s confidence. The Badgers couldn’t get past Ohio State, but there will be plenty of opportunities to prove their worthiness among the Big Ten’s elite. Here’s my outlook for the remainder of the month:

02/04 at Illinois

This shouldn’t be a problem. A match-up against the Big Ten’s bottom feeders. Last month Wisconsin nearly put up triple digits against the Fighting Illini in a rout of epic proportions. Of course, an upset isn’t too far fetched, especially with the recent rough patch the Badgers have experienced. On the other hand, this Illinois team is substandard. Tonight is just the type of game the Badgers need in order to get back on track.

02/09 vs. Michigan State

Andy Manis/AP photo

Andy Manis/AP photo

Bo Ryan will then have four whole days to prepare his team for Michigan State. The Spartans hold the top spot in the Big Ten. A victory would certainly mend the wounds of January and create confidence for UW.

Don’t be surprised if the Badgers pull off the upset. They are sure to be the underdogs, an unfamiliar position for the Badgers who been the Vegas favorite for all but one of their previous 23 games (Virginia). Being the underdog at home tends to give a team an extra boost.

Fans may also want to factor in the health of Michigan State’s Adreian Payne. The senior has missed the past seven games battling a foot injury, but he is expected to give it a go Thursday against Penn State. No one is sure how long he’ll last; not even head coach Tom Izzo. Even with a banged up Payne, Michigan State won’t be an easy task for the Badgers.

02/13 vs. Minnesota

After the MSU showdown, the remainder of February will consist of rematches, most in which the Badgers plan to seek revenge. There is no doubt, Minnesota will be tough. Minnesota thrives off the energy that they create for themselves. If the Badgers can contain momentum, they should come away with the win.

Bench scoring will be a factor as well. In last month’s game the Golden Gophers’ bench outscored the Badgers 41-15. The Badgers will have to focus on this area in order to take the game.

02/16 vs. Michigan

This will be a great opportunity for the Badgers. A win in Ann Arbor would look exceptional in the eyes of the selection committee. This game could make the difference between an eight and a ten seed.

Michigan shot an astounding 54.7% in their last meeting- this proves that defense will be the spotlight for Wisconsin. Even though the Wolverines have been without their All-American Mitch McGary for a month now, it hasn’t slowed them down nor held them back. Since his absence, Michigan has gone 10-1 defeating three top ten teams. That loss, however, occurred Sunday to Indiana.

Michigan is indeed beatable, but UW will have to show their toughness on the road if they want defeat the talented Wolverines.

02/22 at Iowa

This will be an intriguing match up. On January 5th, the Hawkeyes came to Madison and left with defeat, losing to the Badgers 75-71. Iowa led through the first half and early in the second until head coach Fran McCaffery was hit with back-to-back technical fouls. It swung the game from a 41-39 Iowa lead to a 44-41 Wisconsin advantage. The Badgers wouldn’t look back as they continued to victory.

Who knows what the outcome would of looked like if McCaffery managed to keep his cool? His #17 ranked Hawkeyes will have unfinished business with the Badgers; Wisconsin better watch out for this one.

02/25 vs. Indiana

Brent Smith/AP photo

Brent Smith/AP photo

Speaking of unfinished business, how about a rematch against the team that started the losing ways for the Badgers? Indiana was the team that knocked Wisconsin off their 16-0 high horse- how can anybody forget? The Badgers want nothing more than revenge against this Hoosier team.

They will have to contain point guard Yogi Ferrell, who finished with 25 in last months game. The Hoosiers seem to be similar to Wisconsin, one minute they show greatness and the next they can leave your head shaking. The Kohl Center should be rocking for this one as both teams hope to gain position in the Big Ten standings.

It’s make or break time for the Wisconsin Badgers. They need to stop the bleeding before it’s too late. If they can manage to survive February with at least three wins, it will be a successful month. January proved that any game in this conference won’t be easy. With the team struggling in almost every dimension, their focus must be on every game, every possession. As stated before, the key will be to gain momentum. The opportunities are there, but the time is now for this Wisconsin team.