Badger fans, we’ve reached uncharted territory.
Wisconsin is now 4-6, their worst start through 10 games since the 1983-1984 season. Yes, you read that right.
Over 30 years ago.
Some interesting tidbits from back in those days—the Badgers still played in the Wisconsin Field house, the coach of the team was Steve Yoder, and Georgetown won its first national championship.
To preface this article, the odds are stacked against the Badgers—they have played by far one of the most difficult schedules of any team this year, having already taken on four ranked teams, and they are young—We know the narrative about how they lost their four starting seniors, who have the most combined wins in school history, and we anticipated that there would of course be a drop off in production.
We just didn’t think it would really happen.
And unfortunately for this year’s Badgers, if they want to extend their NCAA tournament appearance streak to 20, they’re going to have to be nearly perfect from here on out. Let’s take a look at how the schedule has played out, and the outlook going forward.
In their first three losses (all ranked teams), the Badgers were either tied or within two in the final two minutes of each game—if you want to be considered for the tournament, those are the types of games you have to close out, especially on your home court. Against Xavier, the Badgers put up one hell of a battle, but towards the end of the game, they let the Musketeers go on a 12-0 run in two minutes. Against Baylor, they climbed back valiantly from down 19 to pull within two with two minutes remaining, and Khalil Iverson fouls Manu Lecomte on a three-point attempt. Against UCLA, the Badgers committed 4 turnovers in the final four minutes.
We knew the Wisconsin-Virginia game would be a defensive struggle, but Wisconsin couldn’t get anything going—a mere 3-20 from three and 31.3% from the field will lose you most games. The kicker was the Ohio State game—if you don the Wisconsin uniform, you don’t get blown out at home in that fashion. Yes, the Buckeyes came out with an unbelievable shooting performance (which undoubtedly inspired their football team as well…), but change up the game plan and adapt to get them off their hot streak. At some point, the process of the learning curve has to be expedited and the “moral victories” have to turn into actual victories.
Thankfully, the season does not end after 10 games, and the Badgers have a golden opportunity in front of them—their next 6 games are at home, which means they don’t have to leave Madison again until 2018. It’s a lot to ask, but these next 6 are must-wins—if they can get hot and transition into the true Big Ten season with a load of confidence, they may be able to play their way back into tournament contention.
The Badgers will have to beat the teams they’re supposed to, especially at home, and may have to pull an upset or two against a Purdue or a Minnesota. A maximum of 12 losses *should* be enough to propel Wisconsin into postseason play, given that they rack up a few good wins. But in order to do that, 3 things need to happen:
- Someone other than Happ has to be “the guy” when the Badgers need a big bucket
Against Temple, Happ tried to be the hero three times—he was double-teamed all three times, got blocked twice (definitely fouled once), and missed a short layup. As great of a player as he is, when he’s getting double-teamed, he needs to be able to trust the guys that he can kick it out to. Kobe King got a good look, but was a tad off. Trice is still struggling to find his shot, and Pritzl has been off since the beginning of the season. I’d like to see Brad Davison get an opportunity, he’s been the most consistent of the bunch thus far.
- Improve on the boards
The Badgers, who under Bo Ryan prided themselves on securing rebounds, have been abysmal in that category so far this season. They are last in the Big Ten in offensive and defensive rebounds per game, which means it’s time to get back to fundamentals—when that shot goes up, get a body on someone, get low, and box them out. This is not the biggest Badger team ever, but they have size—now it just has to translate into boards.
- Finish the fight
The narrative of the season so far has been “so close, yet so far away”—when it comes down to it, can the Badgers dig their heels in, avoid costly mistakes down the stretch, and make the buckets necessary to come out on top. There’s nothing they can do to change what happened in the first 10 games, only what happens in the next 21.