It wasn’t even two weeks ago that Wisconsin was undefeated, sitting top three in the country and somehow convincing everyone that they were not only a Big Ten title favorite, but an actual national title contender.
Fast forward nine days, and the Badgers have lost three straight games, succumbing to Indiana, Michigan and, on Wednesday, to Minnesota, 81-68.
The problem isn’t all that hard to identify, either: Wisconsin’s defense has been bad. As bad as it’s ever been under Bo Ryan. For the fifth straight game, the Badgers game up more than 70 points. In his 13 years in Madison, Ryan had never even have a team allow more than 70 points in three straight games.
That stat is a bit misleading, however, as the Badgers are playing at a faster pace this season than they have in recent seasons. What isn’t misleading, however, is that Wisconsin has given up more than 75 points in each of the last three games, a stretch where they have allowed 1.23 PPP. On Wednesday, when the Gophers gave up 81 points on 58 possessions, good for a whopping 1.39PPP. The last time Wisconsin was that much of a sieve defensively? On March 6th, 2011, when Ohio State beat them 93-65 on a day when the Buckeyes hit 14 straight threes.
Think about that.
The last time that the Badgers were this bad defensively, a team made 14 straight three-pointers against them.
So what has turned this group into a team that could compete for a Big Ten title into one playing some of the worst defense of any team in Bo Ryan’s career?
Well, it’s pretty simple, really. They cannot stop anyone off the dribble. Against Indiana, it was Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson that broke down Wisconsin’s perimeter defense. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert weren’t getting all the way to the rim, but they did combine for 43 points and eight assists. And Minnesota? They shredded Wisconsin, led by 18 points from Dre Mathieu, despite the fact that their best player, Andre Hollins, was in the locker room with an ankle injury.
The Badgers have been good offensively this season. But they haven’t been good enough to win without playing any defense.