As the Wisconsin Badgers look for its first Big Ten title since the 2007-08 season, the non-conference portion of the regular season is demanding and will prepare the Badgers well for the Big Ten portion of the schedule.
The highlight game of the non-conference season is the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill as the Big Ten looks to win its third straight challenge after losing the first 10. North Carolina comes into the year with high expectations, a top five preseason ranking as well as the preseason favorite for National Player of the Year, sophomore forward Harrison Barnes. He averaged 15.7 points per game, but came on strong down the stretch after a shaky start to his collegiate career.
In addition to Barnes, UNC returns junior forward John Henson, who averaged a double-double last season as well as 3.2 blocks per game. The Tar Heels also return leading scorer senior forward/center Tyler Zeller, who scored one more point than Barnes. He also led the ACC in field goal percentage. The Heels also brought in top recruit forward James McAdoo.
Besides North Carolina, Wisconsin welcomes Marquette to the Kohl Center for their annual intrastate battle. Wisconsin has won the previous two meetings, including a 69-64 victory in Milwaukee last year. Marquette returns second leading scorer senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom from last year's team that made the Sweet 16.
Wisconsin will also play a couple mid-major conference champions from last year. UW-Milwaukee won the regular season title in the Horizon League before losing in the Horizon League Tournament championship game to Butler, barely missing making the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers will have to replace key members from last year's team, however. UW-Milwaukee will have to replace their top two leading scorers from a year ago, forward Anthony Hill and guard Tone Boyle. Hill also led the team in rebounding and field goal percentage.
Wofford was the Southern Conference champion and will make a trip to Madison early in the regular season. Like UW-Milwaukee, Wofford will have to replace key players. They will have to replace their top two leading scorers, 20 point per game scorer forward Noah Dahlman as well as guard Cameron Rundles. The Terriers will look for revenge for Wisconsin's 53-49 victory in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin will look for revenge on UNLV, who beat the Badgers in last year's meeting in Las Vegas 68-65. UNLV returns senior guard/forward Chace Stanback. Stanback averaged 13 points per game a year ago and scored a career-high 25 points against Wisconsin, including going 4-7 from behind the arc. Senior guard Oscar Bellfield also returns. Bellfield scored 18 in last year's meeting, including 4-6 from behind the arc. UNLV returns four starters and looks to be strong once again.
And finally, Wisconsin is in Hoffman Estates, Ill. for the Chicago Invitational. Wisconsin will take on the Bradley Braves and then either the BYU Cougars or Nevada Wolfpack.
Bradley loses its top four scorers off a team that went just 12-20 a year ago, including leading scorer guard Andrew Warren, who scored 18.8 points per game, by far the highest on the team.
BYU will start its post-Jimmer Fredette era this year. BYU does return forward Brandon Davies, however, who was suspended for late last year. The Cougars finished 32-5 last year and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost to the Florida Gators in the Sweet 16. However, last year, BYU had the Jimmer.
Nevada finished 13-19 last year and 8-8 in the WAC. The Wolfpack do return a bulk of their team, though, and look to be poised to make a run at the conference crown.
The non-conference slate should prove to be a tough test for the Badgers, as they attempt to win their fourth conference title under head coach Bo Ryan.