Losing four starting players is never easy for any team, and Wisconsin is no exception. Despite the presence of potential All-American Ethan Happ, the Badgers will need several young players to step up if Wisconsin is going to have another top-four finish in the Big Ten and make another NCAA tourney run. Several tough opponents stand in the Badgers' way. FOX Sports Wisconsin lists what we feel are the 10 toughest.
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
10. Creighton/UCLA, Nov. 21 (neutral)
The Badgers will face one of these two teams in the Hall of Fame Classic. The Bluejays are coming off another NCAA tournament appearance after a 25-7 season but will have to replace guard Maurice Watson and center Justin Patton. Guard play will be key for this year's Creighton squad, with senior Marcus Foster (18.2 ppg) the big name. Syracuse transfer Kaleb Joseph coon be boon or bust. The Bruins lost three key players from last season's 31-5 team, but returns 7-foot senior center Thomas Welsh and junior guard Aaron Holiday and adds a highly touted recruiting class, led by 6-5 guard LiAngelo Ball.
9. Marquette, Dec. 9 (home)
The Golden Eagles feature a strong shooting backcourt with sophomores Markus Howard (13.2 ppg, 54.7 3%) and Sam Hauser (8.8 ppg, 45.3 3%) and senior Andrew Rowsey (11.6 ppg, 44.7 3%). Marquette's frontcourt is more of a work in progress, which Ethan Happ could exploit, as 6-11 transfer Harry Froling won't be eligible for this game and the Golden Eagles will have to rely on 6-10 Matt Heldt (66 fouls in 418 minutes).
Jeremy BrevardJeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
8. Michigan, Feb. 11 (home)
The Wolverines will need some players to step up after losing three starters from last year's team. Two of those should be a pair of transfer guards. Charles Matthews is ready to play after sitting out a year coming over from Kentucky, while Jaaron Simmons is a grad transfer from Ohio who averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists in 2016-17 for the Bobcats. On the inside, well, 6-10 forward Moritz Wagner (12.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is a steady outside shooter. If some bit players from last season and incoming recruits can fill other holes, Michigan could be dangerous come February.
Rick OsentoskiRick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
7. Baylor, Nov. 20 (neutral)
Wisconsin's opponent in the opener of the Hall of Fame Classic is no pushover. The Bears have made the NCAA tournament four straight years and are coming off a 25-7 season. Baylor is led by senior point guard Manu Lecomte (12.2 ppg, 3.8 apg, 40.8 3%). Only one other player scored in double figures last season, Johnathan Motley, and he is no longer around. But Baylor has plenty of role players, including 7-foot center Jo Lual-Acuil (9.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.5 bpg), who could present some problems inside for the Badgers.
Brad PennerBrad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
6. Minnesota, Feb. 19 (home)
Richard Pitino turned around the Gophers program quickly and has built a solid, all-around team led by guards Nate Mason (15.2 ppg) and Amir Coffey (12.2 ppg) and forward Jordan Murphy (11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg). Forward Reggie Lynch (8.4 ppg., 6.1 rpg, 3.5 bpg) is one of the best defenders in the country. Yes, it's weird the Gophers and Badgers will only play once this season, but at least Wisconsin gets this one at the Kohl Center, where Minnesota hasn't won since 2009.
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
5. Xavier, Nov.16 (home)
Swingman Trevon Bluiett (18.5 ppg. 5.7 rpg), who is emerging as one of the better players in college basketball, leads a largely experienced group coming off a 24-win season. If Xavier can get its frontcourt settled, the Musketeers will be a very dangerous team. Xavier hopes 6-10 Sean O'Mara's breakout in the NCAA tournament wasn't a fluke, but 6-10 grad transfer Kerem Kanter (11.3 ppg at UW-Green Bay) should help.
USA TODAY NETWORKKareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
4. Northwestern, Feb. 1 (home) and Feb. 22 (road)
Speaking of turning programs around, the Wildcats are coming off an NCAA tournament experience and are ranked in the preseason polls. Yes, Northwestern. The Wildcats have a strong backcourt tandem in Bryant McIntosh (14.8 ppg, 5.2 apg) and Scottie Linsley (14.1 ppg, 42.4 3%), but also a potentially imposing inside game with 6-8 Derek Parson (8.6 ppg, 8.0 rpb, 61.1 FG%), 6-10 Barret Benson and two players returning from injuries, 6-9 Rapolas Ivanauskas and 6-8 Aaron Falzon.
Joe CamporealeJoe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
3. Virginia, Nov. 27 (road)
Get all your slow-tempo, low-scoring game jokes out now. We'll wait. OK, all good? This Virginia team should be better than last season's squad, which won 23 games. Head coach Tony Bennett has a lot of guards to mix and match, including Kyle Guy, Devon Hall and Nigel Johnson, the latter a graduate transfer from Rutgers. Senior Isaiah Wilkins, sophomore Mamadi Diakite and redshirt freshman Jay Huff will provide a tough, defensive presence on the inside. Will this game likely be grinding, muck-it-out affair? Yeah, but don't discount the Cavaliers just because the style they play. This team could make a deep run come March.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
2. Purdue, Jan. 16 (road) and Feb. 15 (home)
The good news for Wisconsin is Big Ten player of the year Caleb Swanigan is no longer around. The bad news is pretty much everyone else is back from a Boilermakers team which went 27-8 last season. Purdue figures to cause teams problems with a strong frontcourt of 7-2 center Isaac Haas (12.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and 6-8 forward Vince Edwards (12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 47 3s). Purdue's backcourt has plenty of experience as well with seniors Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson as well as sophomore Casen Edwards; the trio combining for 174 3-pointers in 2016-17.
Denny MedleyDenny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
1. Michigan State, Jan. 26 (road) and Feb. 25 (home)
Many pundits view the Spartans as a Final Four team and national championship contender. That's largely in thanks to 6-7 sophomore swingman Mile Bridges (16.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who has been tabbed Big Ten preseason player of the year and garnered attention as one of, if not the top, player in college basketball. Oh, Michigan State also returns starts like forward Nick Ward (13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and guard Cassius Winston (5.2 apg) and adds one of the best freshmen in the country in 6-11 forward Jaren Jackson.