Wisconsin Looks to Remain a Factor in the Big Ten RacePosted by Walker Carey on January 26th, 2014
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Wisconsin and Purdue in West Lafayette.
Just two weeks ago, Wisconsin sat at 16-0 overall and 3-0 in Big Ten play – climbing all the way up to #3 in the AP Top 25. While several of those 16 victories had come against inferior non-conference competition, the Badgers more than proved their legitimacy with impressive victories over Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia and Marquette. Past Wisconsin teams under Bo Ryan were known for their slow and methodical style of play, but this season’s squad proved early on that it was quite different than its predecessors. Armed with an offensive-minded starting lineup of guards Ben Brust, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson along with forwards Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin raised eyebrows nationally with a drastic contrast in style of play from the norm in Madison.
After an unbeaten run through non-conference play, Wisconsin continued its sizzling play through its first three Big Ten games. In the conference opener, the Badgers unloaded on an inferior Northwestern squad en route to a 76-49 victory. Facing a strong test at home against a very good Iowa team next, Wisconsin rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to earn a 75-71 victory. In the third Big Ten game, a red hot Illinois team invaded the Kohl Center and was thoroughly dismantled by the Badgers in a 15-point Wisconsin victory. At that point, Wisconsin’s ascendance earned the Badgers considerable national attention. For instance, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi placed Bo Ryan’s team as the #1 seed in the Midwest Regional. When the first RPI rankings for the were released on January 10, the Badgers sat atop the list. Everything seemed to be aligning for Wisconsin to be a bona fide contender in both the Big Ten and nationally.
That all changed for the Badgers when they went to Bloomington on Super Tuesday and started a three-game losing skid. A 75-72 loss showcased some of the team’s defensive deficiencies, as the Hoosiers shot a scorching 51.6 percent for the night and Yogi Ferrell recorded a career-high 25 points. Those problems carried over to the team’s second loss when the Badgers were upset by Michigan in Madison. Michigan finished the game shooting at a 54.7 percent clip and a 53.8 percent mark from behind the three-point line. The narrative continued in Wednesday’s loss at Minnesota. The Badgers allowed the Golden Gophers to shoot 58.9 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from behind the three-point line. For a program that had a well-deserved and earned reputation for its defensive intensity, the Badgers’ effort on that end of the floor was surprisingly subpar, emerging as a key concern for the team going forward.
Licking its wounds after three consecutive defeats, Wisconsin was in dire need of a victory on Saturday when it traveled to Purdue. The Badgers started the game on a 16-5 run and ultimately skated to a 72-58 victory. While it must have been nice for Bo Ryan’s team to once again taste victory, the sweetest part of the afternoon for the team was its much-improved defensive effort. After allowing at least 75 points in those three losses, the Badgers held Purdue to just 58 points for the game, 17 points below the team’s season average. Wisconsin also showcased its improved field goal percentage defense, as Purdue shot just 35.4 percent from the field for the afternoon.
Three losses at this point in the season is certainly not a death sentence for Wisconsin in the Big Ten race. The Badgers have proven they are a talented and diverse offensive squad that can score with any team in the conference. While its defensive issues during the three-game losing streak were troubling, Wisconsin showed in Saturday’s victory that it is capable of shoring things up there. If the Badgers can consistently couple their strong offense with a better effort on the other end, they have a great chance of remaining a factor in the Big Ten race throughout the remainder of the season.