Six-game stretch will test Badger hoops
Many college basketball analysts expect Wisconsin this season to give coach Bo Ryan his first Big Ten regular-season title since 2007-'08.
The Badgers return seven of the top eight players from last season's Final Four run and have single games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan.
However, the release Thursday of the league's 2014-'15 schedule reveals a potentially dangerous six-game stretch to close the season.
Four of the Badgers' final six games are away from the Kohl Center.
The stretch begins Feb. 18 at Penn State. UW is 3-0 in its last three trips to the Bryce Jordan Center but the victories came by a combined 14 points (five, three and six points).
After hosting rival Minnesota on Feb. 21, the Badgers travel to play newcomer Maryland on Feb. 24. The Terrapins finished 9-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 17-15 overall last season.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon saw four players transfer after last season and lost promising freshman center Trayvon Reed, who was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and theft.
UW then gets several days to prepare to host Michigan State on March 1. UW handed the Spartans a 60-58 loss last season in Madison. Michigan State won the rematch, 83-75, in the Big Ten tournament.
The Badgers then close away from home, with games March 5 against Minnesota and March 8 against Ohio State.
UW suffered an 81-68 loss to the Gophers last season in Minneapolis. The Badgers and Ohio State met only once and the Buckeyes rallied for a 59-58 victory in Madison.
The Badgers, who finished second in the Big Ten last season at 12-6, open league play against Penn State at home on New Year's Eve.
Of UW's first six Big Ten games, four are at home.
That stretch includes games against Nebraska (Feb. 15) and Iowa (Feb. 20) in a span of six days.
Nebraska won the teams' lone meeting last season, 77-68, in Lincoln in the regular-season finale.
UW swept Iowa last season and has won the last three meetings between the rivals.
The highlight of the nonconference schedule hasn't changed.
UW could face three top-10 teams in less than a week, beginning with the second day of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas.
The Badgers open at 6 p.m. on Nov. 26 against Alabama Birmingham.
A victory over UAB would set up a meeting Nov. 27 against Florida or Georgetown. A victory in that game would send UW to the Nov. 28 title game. UW could face North Carolina, UCLA Oklahoma or Butler in the final.
After returning home, UW hosts Duke on Dec. 3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and then has road games against in-state rivals Marquette (Dec. 6) and UW-Milwaukee (Dec. 10).