With six teams currently ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll, the Big Ten looks like the toughest conference in men's college basketball this year. But thanks to some pretty weak nonconference scheduling, we won't really know how good these teams are until they start playing each other in January. Wisconsin fans get to see five of those teams - all but Indiana - play at the Kohl Center.
How will Wisconsin stack up? We know the Badgers (6-3) have so far played four teams that seem good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament field come March: Florida, Creighton, Virginia, California (sorry, Presbyterian, I don't see it happening). They have lost three of those games, beating only California at home on Sunday. There are four more nonconference games left on the slate, with just one against a decent opponent: Marquette on Dec. 8, in Milwaukee.
Of the three games they've dropped, the 60-54 home loss to Virginia last week was the most troubling. The Cavaliers, coached by former Wisconsin assistant Tony Bennett, employed a physical, Big Ten style, forcing the Badgers out of their comfort zone and holding them to 38% shooting from the field. Worse, Wisconsin shot just five free throws in the game, well below its average of 18. The Cavaliers played Wisconsin-style basketball better than the Badgers did.
Most flummoxed against Virginia was freshman Sam Dekker, otherwise a bright spot in the nonconference season so far. Dekker was limited to five points, half of his average, and shot the ball just twice. With guard Josh Gasser out for the season with an injury and forward Ryan Evans in a shooting slump, Dekker will need to consistently score in double digits for the Badgers to succeed.