After closing out 2016, the Badgers looked to be turning the corner following a stretch of promising basketball, which concluded with an upset road win at UW-Green Bay. However, the struggles in non-conference play were early indications of tougher sailing when the rocky waters of the Big Ten schedule hit.
Wisconsin dropped each of its four opening games against Michigan (3-1 Big Ten, 14-4 overall), Rutgers (3-3 Big Ten, 6-13 overall), Minnesota (1-3 Big Ten, 10-7 overall) and Purdue (3-1 Big Ten, 12-6 overall). The Badgers lost the four games by an average of 18 points.
The offense managed to break the 60-point range once in four games, with scoring efforts of 56, 52, 60 and 57. They allowed a whopping 15 double-digit scorers—including outings of 37 and 24 points—while only mustering up six double-digit performances, with the highest being just 14 points.
Wisconsin and head coach Jonathan Tsipis could foresee growing pains of a new staff, new teammates and new responsibilities for the few returners. Chemistry is vital for a struggling young team to help swallow tough losses; however, the team has already experienced turbulence, as redshirt senior forward Avyanna Young was subject of an indefinite suspension for violation of team rules.
Young returned (after four games) for the Rutgers game off the bench, which is new territory after the forward started the first 10 games. While she is the second-leading scorer and top rebounder, she infringes on experience and reps for the six freshmen on the team, as well as redshirt sophomore Ashley Kelsick, who returned in 2017 after sitting out for more than a year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Coach Tsipis has arguably his best player back, but the improvement on either side of the ball is yet to be seen in Big Ten play—not to mention the team’s best play of the season came without Young touching the floor.