Wisconsin sits at 4-1 already this season, but there are still some formidable opponents left on the Badgers' non-conference slate.
Overview: Head Coach Rob Jeter, who played for Bo Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville, has had a rough go of it as the head coach of the Panthers. After guiding the team to an NCAA berth in his first season, UW-M has failed to achieve a winning season in each of the past two seasons. The Panthers were 13-16 last year against D-I competition.
What to look for: Jeter needs to find shooters, plain and simple. The Panthers were one of the worst shooting teams in the counter from both inside (44%) and outside (30.8%) the arc. Jeter knows this too - he trotted out lots of guys last season in search of someone who could put the ball in the bucket. Elevent different Panthers saw at least 10 minutes per game last season.
Who to watch: UW-M loses every single player with an eFG north of 50.0, so when I say that Ricky Franklin looks like he could lead this team on offense, I mean that in a relative sense. JUCO transfer Tone Boyle should also be a factor.
Expect the unexpected: It's tempting to look for similarities between the Panthers and the Badgers, given Jeter's background. Indeed, just like the Badgers, this is a "defense first" team, and that defense is fueled by tenacious defensive rebounding.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 90%
at Virginia Tech
Overview: The Hokies rode the bubble last season, and they were within a basket of upending UNC in the ACC Tournament. Had they done so, VT probably could have avoided their NIT fate. The Hokies return 62% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: VT sported an elite defense last season, ranking 9th nationally in defensive efficiency. That will probably be the same story this year, but nonetheless, the Hokies should finish near the bottom of the ACC. Some of that is because VT's offense needs to catch up, but that's really more of a reflection of just how strong the ACC figures to be this season.
Who to watch: A. D. Vassallo is putting together a nice career. At 6-6, he's got great size for a backcourt, and he's also a 40% three point shooter. The Badgers will be challenged to contain him. Jeff Allen also had a nice freshman season, and has the look of an elite defender.
Expect the unexpected: Virginia Tech will provide a nice data point on freshman improvement to the sophomore season. The Hokies featured four freshman who saw a lot of action last year, and for the most part, they acquitted themselves well. Whether they take a big step, or a little one, will determine which postseason tournament VT will be invited to this season.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 60%
Overview: Wisconsin fell to their in-state rival in Madison last season, and at the time, it didn't seem like a big deal. Marquette opened the season with a high ranking, and at that point, its only loss was to Duke. Well, it turned out that game was quite an upset. Wisconsin proved to be the superior team last year, and winning at the Kohl Center is no easy proposition. Marquette returns 81% of the minutes from last year (even if they don't return their coach), so this could be a big year for the Golden Eagles. Shows just how desirable that IU job is.
What to look for: When people think of Marquette, they probably think of their great 3-man backcourt of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. And while those guys are good, Marquette featured excellent offensive rebounding last year. It's unclear if that will continue though, as they lose their best glass man in Ousmane Barro.
Who to watch: In James and McNeal, Marquette has two unconventional PGs, in that both are pretty lousy outside shooters. Normally, that's a recipe for disaster with guards. But James and McNeal set up teammates well, hold onto the ball, and they're effective enough inside the arc to be efficient players. But they're probably close to maximizing those other areas, and in order for them to improve their efficiency, they'll have to develop their jumpshots.
Expect the unexpected: If Junior Forward Lazar Hayward has a big year, don't say I didn't warn you. Hayward was deadly from three point range last season (45.1%), and he figures to improve his two point shooting (48.3%). He's also a dominant rebounder. He needs to take care of the ball a little better, but once he shores up that part of his game, he'll be an All Big East performer. Expect to hear his name a lot over the next two years.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 35%
Overview: It was a typical season for the Bengals, going 10-19 against Division I competition. The team does return a lot of minutes from last season though, so it's safe to expect some improvement.
What to look for: Despite the fact that the Bengals were very tall last season (the average height of a Bengal player on the floor last year was 6-6), the defense was awfully ineffective last year. While the two point defense was relatively better than other areas, it was merely average. Besides, opponents had no problem hoisting three pointers outside the teeth of the Bengal defense, dedicating over 40% of their shots to threes.
Who to watch: Matt Stucki and Amorrow Morgan will probably lead this team. Stucki was more effective last season, but with some additional seasoning, Morgan will probably develop into a similar player.
Expect the unexpected: If Wisconsin breaks 65 points, it will be a proud offensive display. The Bengals move very slowly, averaging under 62 possessions last season.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 90%
Overview: The Phoenix have been hovering around .500 for three straight seasons, but they'll get off that bubble this season. Green Bay returns 88% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: The Phoenix could be one of the better shooting teams in the country this year. They were a bit above average last season, but with so many minutes returning, there's a good chance that will improve. Furthermore, the team shot 73.8% at the line, so there's clearly some shooting talent here.
Who to watch: Mike Schachtner, Ryan Tillema, Rahmon Fletcher comprise one of the better trios in mid-major basketball. Each shot 45% from 3, and at least 50% from 2. Fletcher has some freshman TO issues last season, but if he can get those down, these three will be difficult to defend.
Expect the unexpected: This team really should rebound better. On the offensive end, they lay off three pointers by and large, so they should see the opposite effect of a POT. On the defensive side - this team is tall, and opposing offenses tend to shoot a lot of 3s. A lot of things are in place for the Phoenix to take off this season.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 70%
Overview: It's been a few years since the Eagles have had a winning season. Last year they went 14-20, and they lose 2 of their top 3 players in terms of minutes. Expect the streak to continue.
What to look for: Coppin State does one thing well - force turnovers. They ranked 23rd in the nation in defensive TO Rate. But the Eagles fouled teams quite a bit, and they were terrible on the defensive glass as well.
Who to watch: No question about this one. Tywain McKee was the best player on this team last year, and figures to be the best again this season. His strength lies on the perimeter, though he takes most of his shots inside the arc. ESPN the Magazine did a feature on McKee last year.
Expect the unexpected: Other than McKee, nobody else on this team can shoot. Two of their top 5 players in terms of minutes last season sported an eFG under 40.0. Given how opposing defenses can ignore the other players, McKee's numbers are even more impressive.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 90%
This was covered in the Michigan State preview.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 40%
This is a pretty formidable non-conference schedule that is a lot like last year's. Springing an upset on either Texas or Marquette would be big, and I wouldn't put it past Bo Ryan's club. If they can do that, then they have a real shot at 25 wins.