It was over from the opening tip at the Kohl Center, and not in the way Badgers fans were hoping to see. Northwestern gathered in the opening tip, nailed a three-pointer and raced to an 18-1 lead before UW knew what hit them.
Wisconsin made runs of their own in the game, but the 17-point deficit was simply too much to overcome. The loss was the seventh in the last eight games for the Badgers and dropped them to 10-14 overall and 3-8 in the Big Ten.
Not even a team-high 15 points from junior forward Khalil Iverson was enough for the Badgers to fend off an equally frustrated Northwestern squad.
So, what do we take away from arguably the most disappointing loss of the season? Here are our three takeaways from the game:
This isn’t a completely lost season
Sure, in terms of the larger goals of making the NCAA tournament and contending for a Big Ten championship, it is indeed a lost season. There’s no denying that fact. But, it isn’t the whole story either. With a young group of players having to play major minutes, this season is far from being a lost one.
It is in fact a valuable lesson for players like Brad Davison, Aleem Ford and Nathan Reuvers. Let’s also not forget that we have begun to see the version of Khalil Iverson we all thought we’d see earlier in the season. He’s becoming a force for the Badgers and gives them the second scoring option they need to go with Ethan Happ. In the eight-point loss to Northwestern, it was Iverson that led the team in scoring with 15 points. He also was 5 of 8 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free throw line and had 9 rebounds and 2 assists.
More importantly, Iverson is becoming a consistent scoring threat overall. He’s now averaging 10.2 points per game and has scored in double figures in four of the last five games. Of course the sad news is that even Iverson’s improvement and consistency hasn’t been enough, as only one of the last five games was a win.
Still, the point here is that this isn’t a lost season for player development. It may be in terms of wins, losses and post-season play, but there is plenty left for this team to work on and learn from for next season.
This Loss Stung
This was the game this Badgers team needed to have. UW was going up against an equally struggling Northwestern team and it was playing at home. Instead of getting off to a fast start, it was the visiting squad that did most of the early scoring and simply choked any life out of the Kohl Center crowd and the Badgers hopes.
The loss also stung because there was a large fight in this team after that 18-1 hole it dug itself. Yet, that fight was never enough to really get back in the game.
Finally, the fact that Thursday marked the first time since 2009 that the Badgers have lost four consecutive Big Ten games and that Northwestern’s back-to-back wins in Madison marked a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since 1969-70 just added to the pain of this loss.
It’s a strange feeling, because usually any pain of a loss came because UW was fighting for a conference title or a deep run came to an end in the NCAA tournament. Now, the losses are coming fast and furious and it’s not fun to be in this position.
Wisconsin Isn’t Alone Amongst National Powers Struggling
It is easy to take this season in a vacuum and see it as awful, this team as “talentless” and countless other negative remarks that have littered Twitter in the past few weeks. No doubt the standard of acceptable basketball has been raised at Wisconsin, but this is one bad season in nearly 20 years of NCAA tournament-level basketball.
That’s gotten me to think about the bigger picture here. Let’s step away from the Cardinal and White-colored glasses for a second and take a look at the rest of college basketball. When you do that, guess what? Wisconsin’s bad season isn’t the only one for long-time nationally recognized programs.
Kentucky is having one of its worst seasons under John Calipari with three losses in conference play (12-6 is the worst UK has done under him), Indiana is below .500 in conference play, UConn is a shadow of its former self, Pitt and Notre Dame are two of the bottom three teams in the ACC, Baylor and Iowa State are last in the Big 12 and the once-proud Vanderbilt program has just eight wins all season.
The point here is that Wisconsin isn’t the only big-named program to have struggles this season or in any season, and we should be remembering that what the Badgers accomplished since the 1999-2000 season is an exception to the ebbs and flows of college basketball.
Right now, the Badgers are experiencing the first down year in nearly a decade. It’s painful to watch, but some of what we’ve seen from the fanbase is completely ridiculous. Some are acting line spoiled brats who didn’t get that candy bar they wanted at the store or the toy at the local Shopko or something.
What a talentless squad
— The Mad Tweeter (@kdubbs36) February 2, 2018
Arguments like this can be found in numerous parts of the Twittersphere. If you want to point to the 5-man junior class and note that 4 of the 5 are failing to contribute in ways that are good enough, you’ve got no qualms from me. But, to suggest that Happ, Davison, Kobe King, Aleem Ford and others lack talent is just patently false. All except Happ are young, playing injured, out for the season or just growing in a developmental program and showing glimpses of the talent they are developing.
Wisconsin isn’t going to be a program that plugs and plays freshman every season, they simply aren’t recruiting at that level and never really have. Now, are they recruiting at a higher level lately? You bet, but with two-thirds of the class injured there’s not a lot to go on in terms of their “talent” level. Let’s see a full healthy season from Davison and King and then judge.
Furthermore, we wouldn’t even know these guys’ struggles or triumphs this season if the 5-man class that Bo Ryan swung and missed on would be playing up to their potential. Davison likely would be playing, but Ford, King and Reuvers likely wouldn’t even see the floor had the junior class not been a big miss.
I mean, it’s gotten to the point that some in the Badgers fan base are calling out Ethan Happ as a bum and the problem for this team. Even Iverson, who is playing his best basketball of his career is getting roasted by some.
Christ Iverson is awful. Never shoot the ball again.
— The Mad Tweeter (@kdubbs36) January 30, 2018
Yes, that All-American who is leading the team in every single stat category is the problem. Lashing out at players like Happ is just ridiculous, because he’s doing all he can for the program.
Chill out on the negativity a bit, chalk this up to being a season of transition. Few programs not named Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke could see 4 starters gone, replace them with all new faces to the program and still survive.
There’s a difference between being angry/disappointed in the results of the team and going full-on rage tweets. Luckily there are some even-keeled thinkers in the Twittersphere.
Well now we know that years in which there are no scholarship bench guards and freshmen/sophomores have to play 35 min/game aren’t going to go well.
— Hornibrook Appreciator (@TheRealEBohl) January 24, 2018
The Badgers suck, yes. Bo’s last few recruiting classes were horrendous obviously. Gard has some talent with this freshman class, and injuries haven’t helped. But to say they in trouble as a program after one down year, you’re starting to lose it, Doug.
— Michael Graber (@Graber2Graber) January 24, 2018
If the Badgers didn't have Happ, I don't think they would even have a win this season. Sucks that the streak of making the tournament is going to end this year. Unless they somehow pull off a miracle and win the B1G tourney.
— Jacob Nichols (@jnich24) January 30, 2018
Wisconsin’s season doesn’t get any easier from here on out with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue still to go on the schedule. Could wins even come against equally struggling teams like Maryland or Minnesota? Perhaps those are places for glimmers of hope in a dark season for the Badgers.