The Wisconsin men’s basketball team started off the month of February by continuing their recent struggles and falling to Ohio State 59-58 Saturday afternoon.
After being ranked as high as third in the AP Top 25 less than a month ago, the Badgers (17-5 overall, 4-5 Big Ten) fell out of the rankings in the latest polls and sit fifth in the Big Ten with losses in 5 of their last 6 games.
The adversity that the Badgers are currently facing will serve to test their resilience and ability to get back up after being knocked down. To get the Badgers ready for the test that the next couple weeks will serve as, head coach Bo Ryan gave his team a test of his own, showing 28 clips of game film to his players and having them write down what they saw in each clip.
“Pretty perceptive group, they caught a lot of the teaching points,” Ryan said in response to how his team performed on his test. “It was the first time I’ve ever done it and they did pretty well.”
Despite the funk that Wisconsin has seemed to be in the past few weeks after starting out the season with a school-record 16-straight wins, Ryan did not appear concerned about his team’s recent struggles and insisted that huge changes are not necessary to get this team back on the right track.
“You can’t, all of the sudden, remake a team when you can take five possessions out of several of those games … and if they go the other way …you’re sitting on the other side,” Ryan said in a press conference Monday. “I think we just [need to] keep getting guys to understand that you’re the ones to make the difference.”
Ryan reiterated that these same players on his team were good enough to win their first 16 games while beating quality opponents such as Florida and Virginia.
He also conveyed that many of the flaws about the Badgers being pointed out now were already present when they were racking up wins, as well. The only difference now is the key possessions that determine outcomes in games haven’t been going Wisconsin’s way.
Against Ohio State those missed opportunities came back to haunt Wisconsin, with the Badgers making only 19-29 free-throw attempts and just three of 17 tries from beyond the arc, preventing them from kicking off February with a much-needed win. Instead, tensions are still high coming off three straight home losses as the Badgers continue to work hard to get on the right track.
If Wisconsin is going to right the ship, they are going to need freshman Nigel Hayes to continue his stellar play and emergence as an impact player for Wisconsin. Last year, Sam Dekker played the role of an impact freshman lighting a spark for the team. This year, that role appears to belong to Hayes, who totaled a career-high 17 points against Ohio State which proved pivotal toward keeping the Badgers in the game.
Playing 29 minutes Saturday, Hayes seems to be earning the trust of Bo Ryan, something that is not always easy to do for Wisconsin freshmen.
“Nigel Hayes is the most improved player… He just gets it done,” Ryan said. “Nigel Hayes is a real find here, and without Nigel, we might not have anywhere near what we have here.”
An even bigger test for the Badgers than the one Ryan self-administered begins Tuesday night as they travel to Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini, a team that Wisconsin thrashed 90-75 at the Kohl Center only a few weeks ago in the last game of their winning streak.
“Watching [Illinois] play Iowa, they’ve improved in a lot of areas. We know how athletic they are,” Ryan said. “Earlier in the year, there were some things that were getting away from them, but now they are more in tune with one another and their talent level is starting to show through.”
After starting off the season with a 13-2 mark, Illinois has dropped its last seven games in a row, the first of which was the loss at Wisconsin Jan. 8.
Including that loss, Illinois has lost the last six games in the series with Wisconsin, but certainly possesses enough talent to pose a strong threat to the Badgers. That talent includes Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice and Joseph Bertrand, all of whom average double-digit scoring with Rice averaging a team-best 16.5 points per game.
The Badgers and Illini will tip off Tuesday at 8 p.m. C.T. on the Big Ten Network.