Mondays with Rasty: Badgers must right ship before March

With Nigel Hayes (10) graduating, it will be left to Ethan Happ (22) to carry on the Badger tradition next season.

Image By: Kaitlyn Veto

Postseason play is only two games away, and the Wisconsin Badgers look like a team with an identity crisis.

A loss to Michigan State—the Badgers’ fourth in their last five games—denied them a tie with Purdue atop the Big Ten standings. But at this point, the race for the Big Ten title should be a secondary concern for Wisconsin and its fans. If the Badgers capture a share of the regular season conference title, it will say a lot more about the state of the Big Ten this year than it will about UW.

This is a Badgers team that entered the season with lofty expectations and gave fans hope of a third Final Four run in the last four years. But for many, those dreams of an NCAA Tournament run have been replaced by the fear that they won’t even make it out of the first weekend. The four losses in the last five games are just the culmination of the issues that have plagued the Badgers for well over a month now.

On offense, Wisconsin often looks erratic and out of sorts. When Ethan Happ was playing god-tier basketball, the Badgers were able to overcome these potentially fatal flaws. Thanks to Happ and the team’s stellar defense, they were able to win ugly games despite consistently shooting at or below 40 percent from the field. But once teams started to double Happ and Nigel Hayes more in the post, no one has been able to consistently pick up the slack on the offensive end. These problems were on full display Sunday in East Lansing.

While they showed glimpses of the team we saw early in the season, those deficiencies eventually sealed their fate. For example, there was a point in the second half where Wisconsin had whittled the Michigan State lead down to two thanks in large part to its dominant post play. At the time, both Miles Bridges and Nick Ward were on the bench with three fouls, presenting the Badgers with a golden opportunity to take over and build a lead. Instead, they inexplicably abandoned their post game and settled for jumpers, helping MSU turn a two-point advantage into a 10-point lead by the time Bridges and Ward came back in.

Wisconsin was just 1-of-9 on 3-pointers in the second half. Hayes went an atrocious 4-of-12 from the free-throw line. Whenever they got within striking distance, it felt like they came up with an empty possession. These are the kind of things that have become all too common as of late with the Badgers, and the time to iron them out is running thin.

There is a really solid team in there somewhere that could still show up, but it’s rather worrisome to still be waiting for that to happen when the calendar is about to turn to March.

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