It’s 78 degrees and sunny as I look out of my window right now, but I just can’t help thinking of winter. I’m dreading the days of snowblowers and antifreeze as much as the next guy, but there is definitely something to look forward to that makes the winter tolerable.
On Wednesday the Big Ten announced the 2009-10 conference schedule, meaning basketball season is drawing one step closer. Football may have our attention right now, but it’s not hard to look down University Avenue just a bit. Just as Coach Bielema’s team is putting the finishing touches on a January bowl win (hopefully) Bo Ryan’s boys will be ratcheting up to full speed.
Let’s dive into this year’s Big Ten slate. (here is a PDF version if you'd like)
The first thing you might notice when looking at the schedule is that Bucky only plays Minnesota and Iowa once. Where both of those opponents are protected as “rivalry games” in football schedule-making, no such boundaries exist in the hoops world. So, Wisconsin will not visit Iowa City this year and Badgers fans don’t get to seek revenge on the Gophers for the David Blaine-esque Kohl Center-heist of 2009. If you don’t remember that game, I’m not going to go into detail. It’s best we just move on.
For the second year in a row Badgers fans will be able to watch each and every Big Ten game from anywhere in the country. Wisconsin will play at least four games on ESPN or ESPN2, one on CBS (at Michigan Feb. 6) and will appear on the Big Ten Network 12 times. Television plans for the Badgers’ final Big Ten game at Illinois are to be determined.
Another glare shining off this schedule is that it looks really tough. Long before the dates were announced we knew who the opponents were, but seeing them stacked on top of one another looks a bit daunting. Considering the Big Ten had nine teams make postseason play last year and only graduated/lost a handful of players means that this should be one of the toughest (and deepest) conferences in the nation.
The Badgers will play 11 of 18 games vs. 2009 NCAA tourney teams, including nine of the first 12. The other three during that opening stretch? Just NIT champion Penn State twice and NIT qualifier Northwestern. Hmmm… bring it on!
Speaking of tough stretches, the schedule-makers didn’t do the Badgers many favors with the early season gauntlet. Opening the season at home (vs. Ohio State) is nice, but then four of the next five games are in hostile territory. The one home contest sandwiched in there is Purdue. That’s okay though, Badger fans will be ready to, ahem, “welcome” the Boilers after recent history.
A date that the Grateful Red will no doubt be circling on the calendar is Tuesday, Feb. 2 when Tom Izzo and the Spartans invade the Kohl. Wisconsin didn’t get to host MSU a year ago, so the building should have a pretty good lather going that night. May I remind you that since Coach Ryan took over UW is 6-0 vs. Sparty at the Kohl Center.
If the Badgers can navigate the choppy waters of the early season schedule and find themselves on dry land, they could be in great position for the stretch run. UW’s final six games are against teams who combined to go 35-73 (.324) in the Big Ten last year.
As we count down the days of summer, fear not… hoops are on the way.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled summer programming.