Responding to adversity is something the Badgers have rarely had to do this year.
But now, it’s exactly what they need to do, following their loss to the Indiana Hoosiers on Tuesday.
The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers basketball team jumped out to their best start in school history, a glistening 16-0, going undefeated through the nation’s seventh toughest non-conference schedule. Once they hit conference play they didn’t slow down, starting 3-0 including a comeback win over a talented Iowa (14-3) squad.
Many Badgers fans became greedy wondering, how long could this undefeated streak last?
Well in the Big Ten, the nation’s top conference, winning streaks don’t last long. Just ask Ohio State. The Ohio State Buckeyes began the year 15-0 before dropping three straight conference games.
That is the fate the Badgers must avoid.
Bo Ryan summed up what Wisconsin must do by saying,
“It’s like getting turned down for a dance by a girl. You have to dance again.”
Wisconsin must rebound from their loss at Indiana by defeating a talented Michigan team at the Kohl Center on Saturday evening. To compete for a conference championship in the Big Ten, teams must avoid losing streaks. Saturday evening is the Badgers’ opportunity to right their wrong.
Not that a road loss in the Big Ten is anything to be ashamed of, especially at one of the nation’s most historic and hectic venues; like the Hoosier’s famed Assembly Hall.
The Badgers were up by ten points in the second half on the unpredictable Hoosiers but they couldn’t quite put them away. Wisconsin played uncharacteristically poor defense in the lane, allowing Indiana to go on a run of layups which lead to the Badgers’ loss.
If I know Bo Ryan, watch for the Badgers to play their best defensive game of the season against the Wolverines on Saturday. Any player, no matter how talented offensively, will not receive big minutes against Michigan if they did not show a renewed focus and grit defensively this week in practice.
Forget the 48-38 victory over Virginia earlier in the year; this game will be the Badgers’ crown jewel this year defensively. I do not expect Michigan to break the 50-point mark, just as I do not see the Badgers topping 60 points on the game.
This is the most crucial point of the Badgers’ season. Conference play is in full swing and their push toward a potential Big Ten championship must begin on Saturday.
To call this game a “Must Win” is a bit much, it’s January, but to call it an “Almost Must Win” is fairly accurate. That is if the Badgers want to fulfill their dreams of becoming Big Ten champs again for the first time since 2008.
There are only two undefeated teams in conference play in the Big Ten; one of them is Michigan. Albeit the Wolverines haven’t played a conference foe as lethal as the Badgers, and their scoring attack are.
For the Badgers to hand Michigan their first conference loss of the season they must slow the two sensational sophomores the Wolverine’s possess.
Those sophomores would be Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Both are averaging in the teens in points-per-game and both can shoot the three ball with great accuracy. The Badgers must be strong on the perimeter defensively and will have to be quick at getting around screens to keep the Wolverines from seeing multiple open looks.
As much as Wisconsin will come out trying to prove something defensively, there will be one Badger looking to prove something on the offensive end of the court.
And that man is Sam Dekker.
Dekker is the leader of this team and when the Badgers needed him the most in the second half against Indiana his shot repeatedly came up untrue.
He is averaging 14 points-per-game on the year but managed only 10 points against the Hoosiers. Dekker did shoot 2-5 from three point land but missed the ones that the Badgers needed the most. Look for him to step up in this game; I’m expecting around 20 points for Dekker against the Wolverines.
“Slam” Dekker will come out to show why he, as only a sophomore, is the leader of this team. Watch for him to capitalize on Michigan’s average defense for a plethora of quality looks.
If the Badgers can limit Michigan’s scorers and play the brand of defense Wisconsin teams have since Bo Ryan arrived, they have a great chance at ending their losing streak at one game.
What will happen if the Badgers do bring their patented defense, which they’ve forsaken at times this year, and Dekker explodes for the scoring output he’s due? Wisconsin will cruise to a very important win.
Wisconsin will be 4-1 in the conference with multiple quality wins if they can bring home the victory for the Grateful Red on Saturday evening. If Wisconsin losses, they will be 3-2 in the Big Ten, on a two-game losing streak, with a brutal conference schedule ahead.
The direction the Badgers go this year, as far as toward greatness or just another solid year, could be defined by how they respond to their first loss.
Let’s hope they bounce back and continue their phenomenal year.
The game can be watched nationwide at 6:00 PM on ESPN at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The way I see it? 54-48 Wisky decided by late made free throws.