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Archive for March, 2011

I’ve been a fan of Wisconsin Basketball longer than I’ve been a fan of most anything else. Back when I was drinking milk out of little paper cartons and going outside to play between math and reading, I was a Wisconsin Basketball fan. It was my first real love in the world of sports. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t times where I truly hated Wisconsin Basketball.

I admit, Wisconsin doesn’t play a particularly aesthetic brand of basketball. I won’t make the mistake of equating beauty with effectiveness, because there is simply no way to argue with the consistent success this team has achieved: 13 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, stellar home record, plus a handful of Big Ten Titles. Every year it seems there’s no way the Badgers can continue that streak, or compete with a steadily improving Big Ten, and yet by season’s end they’ve battled their way to the top of the standings. Maybe not always the tip-top, but certainly not down in the basement. Impressive, no doubt, but the ride there isn’t always scenic.

Still, as long as I’ve been a student at the University of Wisconsin, I’ve found plenty to complain about. I wish Wisconsin would recruit more, and it kills me when top Wisconsin prospects leave the state. As good as this team is at holding a lead, I don’t think they can play from behind very well. As good a coach as Bo Ryan is, his dedication to a system sometimes limits the potential of his individual players, and when the system doesn’t work in a particular game, I don’t think he’s a great adjustment maker.

In that respect, this season was no different. Despite near record-breaking shooting from the free-throw line, the Badgers weren’t particularly good at getting there. The defense, while still good, wasn’t as strong as years past. And the player I had convinced myself was the best NBA prospect Wisconsin had seen in some time, Jon Leuer, turned out to be only the second-best player on the team for much of the year, overshadowed by Jordan Taylor’s spectacular play. Yet for all that, I again couldn’t question the results. For much of the season, Wisconsin was the best offensive team in the nation, eventually settling in second behind Ohio State. They finished third in the Big Ten, easily one of the top two conferences in the nation.

That’s exactly what made last night’s Sweet 16 loss to Butler so tough. On the surface, it was the same old loss to a mid-major that has ended Wisconsin’s season so many times recently. This wasn’t a typical Wisconsin loss due to some systemic flaw in the game plan, though. The Badgers matched up across the floor with the Bulldogs, and their statistical resume was superior nearly across the board. This was a completely disastrous single-game performance, plain and simple. Wisconsin could not for the life of them get the ball through the rim. The Badgers actually played reasonably good defense, holding Butler to under a point per possession. Despite the continual protesting from media members, they didn’t “settle” for jumpers. Nearly every shot Wisconsin took came from a reasonably efficient zone on the floor: either behind the three-point line or within about 10 feet of the basket. That didn’t lessen the frustration that flooded my veins every time a Jon Leuer hook shot bounced across the back of the rim or a Jordan Taylor three went long. It was a head-scratching loss, a performance that would have blindsided everyone had it not happened against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament two weeks ago. The excellent Big Ten Geek’s Blog points out a sad fact:

Twice this season Wisconsin has posted an effective field goal percentage under 40.0.  The first time was when the team scored 33 points against Penn State in the slowest game between Division I foes in some 13 years.  The second time was last night.

The Badgers played Wisconsin basketball last night, but picked a bad time of year to become wildly inconsistent with their shooting. The same guy who single-handedly dragged Wisconsin to victory over the nation’s top team during the regular season completely fell apart. The fourth-year senior who could have played his way into the first round of the NBA Draft was a mess. Few things went right, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. As a Wisconsin basketball fan, I’m pretty familiar with low expectations, and I’m almost as familiar with seeing the team exceed them. But last night, I expected a Wisconsin victory. If that was a mistake on my part, it’s a sad commentary on the state of this program. Either way, thinking about what should have been sucks a lot more than thinking about what could have been.

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