If the Badgers had to circle a mid-major opponent on their schedule, this would be the one.
An early season, non-conference matchup with Oakland out of the Summit League may not catch anyone's eye, but it should. The Golden Grizzlies have had plenty of recent success, and if it was not for a last-second three-pointer by North Dakota State in the 2009 Summit League Tournament, Oakland would have been in the NCAA Tournament with the Badgers.
The Golden Grizzlies expect to again compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, returning four of five starters from last season. Oakland enters this season as its conference's overwhelming favorite, receiving 34 of 35 first-place votes in the Summit League Preseason Poll. It also has the Summit League Preseason Player of the Year in senior guard Johnathon Jones, who led the country in assists last season with 290 (8.1 per game).
""This is a potential NCAA Tournament team,"" Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close said. ""They feel this is their year.""
Including Jones, the Grizzlies have three players named to the Preseason Summit League First Team, with the other two being senior forward Derick Nelson and junior center Keith Benson.
Last season Benson finished fourth in the country with a .622 field goal percentage, and scored 14.3 points and grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game. Nelson sat out last season with a medical redshirt.
""Oakland is plenty capable of coming in here and playing well based on what they've got back and what they've done in the past,"" Close said.
Wisconsin has to be happy with itself at this point in the season, comfortably winning its first two preseason and its first regular season games.
""As of now I like what I'm seeing,"" junior forward Jon Leuer said. ""Everyone's unselfish and doing whatever it takes.""
Leuer himself had a strong beginning to this year's campaign, scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. He may have a tougher time tonight against Oakland, however, as the Grizzlies possess more size than the Mastodons. Leuer may be matched up with Benson, who stands at 6'11"".
""[They have] some length inside,"" Leuer said. ""They pose a lot of different matchup problems for us.""
The Badgers have played well this season for the most part, but one fundamental they may focus on improving is ball security, as Wisconsin committed 13 turnovers against IPFW.
""That was our biggest problem in the first game,"" Leuer said. ""We had too many turnovers.""
The next event for Wisconsin is the prestigious Maui Invitational. The Badgers begin the tournament against Arizona, and may face teams such as Maryland, Vanderbilt and Gonzaga along the way, all squads who qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season.
Looking ahead to Maui is tempting, but something Wisconsin cannot afford to do.
""Right now [The Maui Invitational] doesn't mean a whole lot to us,"" Leuer said. ""Oakland is right in front of us, and if you look past them, you could slip up.""