Badgers men’s basketball: Earlier Big Ten start next season causes scheduling wrinkles

March 8, 2017

At this time next year, teams from the Big Ten Conference will be in a holding pattern as they wait for the start of the NCAA tournament or other postseason events.

Howard Moore, an assistant coach with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program, knows the feeling.

Moore helps coordinate the Badgers’ schedule, and right now he’s waiting for a few pieces of information to arrive before he can complete the puzzle that is UW’s 2017-18 slate.

“It’s still moving parts because there are certain things I have to wait on,” Moore said.

The Badgers have known for a while that they’d play in the Hall of Fame Classic. The field for that tournament, which will be held on Nov. 20-21 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, was officially announced Tuesday and includes UW, UCLA, Baylor and Creighton.

Among the information Moore is waiting to receive is an opponent and date for the Gavitt Tipoff Games, which pits the Big Ten against the Big East. UW will host a game in that event in 2017-18 after playing at Creighton this season.

The most complicated part of filling out the non-conference schedule is working around a stretch in early December that will include two Big Ten games next season.

The Big Ten tournament will be held one weekend earlier than normal next season so the event can be played in New York. The 2018 tournament will run from Feb. 28 through March 4 at Madison Square Garden.

Not only will Big Ten teams have a week or more off before Selection Sunday arrives, the February finish to the regular season means an earlier start to conference play.

Each Big Ten team will play two games over a four-day stretch that starts Dec. 1. Conference action will then resume in January, with the final 16 games for each team played over eight weeks.

UW is expected to play a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge sometime in late November. There’s also the matter of completing a home-and-home series with Temple, but finding a date for a return game in Philadelphia is tricky because the Badgers don’t know how the rotation of the opening weekend of Big Ten play will work.

As Moore pointed out, UW could be playing a road game on Dec. 4, which would make playing at Temple on Dec. 6 a less-than-ideal setup. If the Badgers end up with a Big Ten home game on either Dec. 3 or 4, a trip to Philadelphia the first full week of that month becomes a better fit.

The Badgers’ non-conference schedule also will include home games against Marquette and Western Kentucky.

As for the Hall of Fame Classic, the field includes four teams who were ranked in the top 10 at some point this season. UCLA is ranked No. 3 and Baylor is at No. 9, while UW is at No. 24 after peaking at No. 7 in February.

Creighton is currently unranked but spent time in the top 10 after opening the season with 13 consecutive victories, including a 79-67 win over the visiting Badgers on Nov. 15.

Matchups and television information will be announced at a later date.

“It’s a great field,” Moore said.

Happ honored

UW sophomore forward Ethan Happ was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press.

Minnesota junior center Reggie Lynch had won the same award in a vote by the conference coaches.

The All-Big Ten first team as chosen by The Associated Press was the same as the one released by the conference a day earlier. It included Happ, Purdue sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, Maryland junior point guard Melo Trimble, Iowa senior swingman Peter Jok and Minnesota junior guard Nate Mason.

“It would have been better if we would have won the Big Ten,” Happ said of his individual accolades, which included being named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team for the second consecutive season. “Any individual award always comes from your teammates directly, so it’s not like something that I did on my own the whole season. Obviously, my teammates and coaching staff put me in a position to do well and I just did well a few games, I guess.”

Swanigan was named the AP’s Player of the Year, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges earned Freshman of the Year honors and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino was Coach of the Year.

Happ was also named to the United States Basketball Writers Association All-District V team.

The 10-player team from a region that includes Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio includes Happ, Swanigan, Mason, Bridges, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr., Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene and Valparaiso’s Alec Peters.

Swanigan was the District V Player of the Year, while Purdue’s Matt Painter was named Coach of the Year for the district.

Tournament prep

UW will practice three times in Madison before leaving Thursday for Washington, D.C., where it opens up the Big Ten tournament a day later with a game against either Iowa or Indiana.

Badgers coach Greg Gard said the team may spend two of those days prepping for Indiana since it’s been more than a month since the teams played each other. UW won both games, winning 75-68 at Indiana on Jan. 3 and 65-60 at the Kohl Center on Feb. 5.

A game between UW and Iowa would be the second in nine days. The Hawkeyes beat the host Badgers 59-57 last Thursday.

“We’ll work on some things ourselves that we need to continue to get better at and improve and polish up for this time of the year,” Gard said. “We just played Iowa, so that’s pretty fresh in our memories in terms of our preparation for them. It’s been a while since we played Indiana … so we’ll use two of the days probably for Indiana or a day and a half for Indiana and a day and a half for Iowa because we’ll have three practices in before we even know (the winner). We’ll be leaving at the time that those two are playing.”