By the time the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team begins Big Ten Conference play in late December, it's possible the Badgers will have played five teams who played in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
That's one of the things that stood out to UW associate head coach Greg Gard when he assessed the Badgers' 13-game non-conference schedule, which was released Thursday. The Big Ten schedule was revealed over the course of two days earlier this week.
"A lot of tests," Gard said.
The Badgers, who went 25-9 last season and reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in 10 seasons under coach Bo Ryan, will learn a lot about themselves during a difficult 15-day stretch that could include four games against 2011 NCAA tournament teams.
UW and BYU, which also advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, are the favorites to reach the final of the Chicago Invitational Challenge on Nov. 26 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Four days later, the Badgers will play at North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Tar Heels went 29-8 last season and could start the season as the top-ranked team in the nation.
Starting Dec. 3, UW will play three times in eight days at the Kohl Center, a stretch that includes games against Marquette and UNLV, both of whom advanced to the NCAA tourney last season.
UW begins the regular season on Nov. 12 against Kennesaw State and hosts Colgate four days later. Both programs struggled in 2010-2011 and will feature new coaches this season.
The non-conference schedule also includes home games against Wofford, which played in the NCAA tournament last season, Missouri-Kansas City, UW-Green Bay, Savannah State and Mississippi State. UW will play Bradley in a semifinal game of the Chicago Invitational Challenge in Hoffman Estates on Nov. 25 and will play at UW-Milwaukee on Dec. 13.
"I think we'll see a lot of teams we haven't seen," said Gard, who is in charge of putting together the non-conference schedule. "Different flavors. Some new coaches that are establishing some things, so we won't have as good a feel for what they're going to do when you can go back to last year's film and watch somebody. It'll be good for our guys to prepare on the fly and adjust."
UW will play just one exhibition game this season — against UW-Stevens Point on Nov. 5 — because it has arranged a scrimmage with DePaul. Per NCAA rules, that scrimmage can't be publicized and won't be open to the public.
Counting league play, 25 of UW's 31 games will be televised by either CBS, Big Ten Network or one of the ESPN networks.