The Wisconsin Badgers could leave no doubt about their NCAA tournament credentials in the coming weeks.
Greg Gard — filling in for his mentor, the esteemed Bo Ryan — will take a huge step toward locking up permanent status as UW’s head coach if he can win just one of four upcoming road games: at Maryland, at Michigan State, at Iowa, or at Purdue. Should the Badgers manage to win one of those games, the ability to then win all their remaining home games; their manageable road game at Minnesota; and their first game in the Big Ten Tournament (in which they’ll be a higher seed, barring an unlikely run to fourth place) would put them in the middle of the bubble conversation at worst, but the outlook would probably be classified as “cautiously optimistic.” Any achievements beyond those modest parameters would very likely bring the Badgers back to the Big Dance. Gard would be able to revel in a significant accomplishment with a team that looked lost in early January.
Barry Alvarez would be foolish to not retain him (unless he knew he could land Tony Bennett, but that’s probably not going to happen).
It’s time to be on Gard with Wisconsin, and to reinforce that idea, let’s play along for a little bit with the Badgers’ next month of results.
Let’s say Wisconsin wins none of those three big road games; wins its other home games plus the road trip to Minnesota; and claims only one Big Ten Tournament victory before losing in the quarterfinals. The Badgers would enter Selection Sunday with a 19-14 record, 10-8 in the Big Ten (11-9 counting the conference tournament).
Plenty of people will look at the lack of 20 wins. Others will note the winning conference record as a counterpoint to the lack of 20 wins. Remember, though: Such numbers — while not entirely relevant to a resume discussion — are not in themselves direct determinants of inclusion or exclusion.
The number which would represent a source of concern is the pile of 14 losses the Badgers could very realistically accumulate. Yes, Wisconsin has lost a lot of games to very good teams — Oklahoma, Maryland and Indiana — and is probably going to lose more games to high-end opponents. However, when (if) you lose 14 games, chances are you’ve stubbed your toe on at least one or two occasions. Wisconsin certainly did, losing at home to Western Illinois (a real ouchie) plus Milwaukee and Marquette. That’s a lot of baggage to carry.
The Badgers are in a position where they need their Big Ten body of work to augment a road win at Syracuse and a neutral-court win over VCU. So far, they’re on the right track, but grabbing one high-end road game — with no stumbles in any remaining games they should win — will be needed in the race to the Dance hall.
This is the point in the program where we remind you that resumes can’t be evaluated in a vacuum — they must be measured in relationship to the dozens of other moving parts around the country.
This past Saturday, BYU lost at home to Pacific. The Cougars basically told the Selection Committee, “We don’t want to be in your fine tournament.”
Boise State lost to Air Force, essentially guaranteeing that the Mountain West’s only possible at-large candidate is San Diego State — and even then, that’s an uphill battle for the Fisher Kings of Team Tenochtitlan.
Vanderbilt lost to Ole Miss, shutting down the notion that the Commodores are going to make a late dash into the at-large pool.
So many teams are torpedoing their at-large candidacies that a messy resume such as Wisconsin’s could still be good enough. It’s all about the entirety of the field, not just one resume in isolation.
Be warned, then: If Wisconsin neither plummets nor soars in the coming month, hitting a few of its targets but leaving some tasks unfinished, you’re going to evaluate a very complicated and cluttered resume. Wisconsin is a team which might cut against a lot of popular conceptions of what an NCAA tournament profile really looks like.