Wisconsin has lost four of its last five games after starting the season 16-0, and the doubts about just how good this team actually was from the get-go have reached a fever pitch. A vocal minority has even started questioning the "heart" of the Badgers.
This is as close as I come to quitting on a team. Badgers have no heart.
— Mike (@carpy1130) January 30, 2014
Let's put the Northwestern game to rest a bit. Giving up 65 points on defense should be more than enough to win a basketball game given the offensive talent on this 2013-14 Badgers team. Was it perfect defensively? Hell no, far from it, especially when you're allowing anyone to score 30 points as an individual.
But, anyone that thought Wisconsin was a defensive juggernaut at any point this season either wasn't paying attention from the get-go, or were wearing some serious Cardinal and White glasses. One could be forgiven for overlooking the defense considering all the winning and the offensive firepower UW was putting on display—and that firepower went ice-cold on Wednesday night.
Sometimes, basketball can be a really simple game. You shoot 23 percent and your opponent shoots 47 percent and the chances of winning are very slim.
Over the last five games, it's been very clear that UW's defensive deficiency has been exposed. It's also obvious that if the answers were readily available to Bo Ryan and the coaching staff this would've ended way earlier in Big Ten play.
However, here's the harsh reality of life in the Big Ten—no one is going to go through conference play undefeated. A loss or two was likely to come, given the crazy nature of the Big Ten. Last night was a perfect example of that all over the conference.
On Wednesday, something happened that never has happened before in conference play, Northwestern and Penn State each won a game on the same night. That should tell you just how insane this season has been in the Big Ten.
But, that aside, what has been puzzling to me and a lot of others is the formula of how the Badgers have been losing as of late.
If it isn't a defense that has been afraid to be physical when that's exactly what is needed, it's an offense that goes colder than a beer left out in the Wisconsin winter—whatever was working for the first 16 games has stopped working over the past five games.
On Thursday, one of the more quiet guys at the mic, Sam Dekker, decided to unleash a pretty good, but calm tongue lashing for himself and his teammates. According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dekker laid it all out on the line publicly.
“I definitely think teams have been taking advantage of what we’ve been lacking,” Dekker said. “And that’s being focused, being ready, being prepared.
“These teams are coming in and punching us in the mouth and we’re not punching back. It’s as simple as that.
“We’re being soft. We’re being unaggressive. We’re being the team that’s lacking in all the categories that you need to win…
“Usually I’m the nicest guy up here but it’s just not acceptable right now what we’re doing.”
There's no doubt the frustration is mounting for a team that came in to Big Ten play with a ton of confidence, confidence that has eroded in to doubt and some serious soul searching.
However, the question is, will Dekker's words be the catalyst for change? Call me skeptical at best, if only because during the last five-game stretch, we've heard others echo the tune Dekker was singing on Thursday.
In fact, guard Josh Gasser spoke nearly the same words just before the Purdue victory, according to Jeff Potrykus in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“I was just reiterating what we talked about all week, what our mindset was,” Gasser, who gathered the starters together in a circle on the court, explained after practice Monday. “We all want to win. My message was: ‘I know we want to win. But are we willing to do whatever it takes to win?’
“That was kind of what I think we were missing in that losing skid. You talk about how much you want to win but you’ve got to do the things necessary to win.
“I just brought us together and said we need to do that. We need to communicate on the court and that’s what makes us better on defense."
Yet, those lessons lasted just one game and a grand total of four days apparently. The point is, there's been a lot of talk and very little action over the last two weeks by this Badger basketball team.
What you will notice in those two speaches is the theme of a consistent effort, not the overall heart of UW. It's doing what UW did the final five minutes effort-wise for the other 35 minutes.
Having Dekker speak those candid words publicly is a rarity, and maybe it's a catalyst. Yet, it's not the first time a UW player has verbalized what "needs to be done," either internally or publicly.
Can words spoken this bluntly, by the face of the program, mean more? You bet they can, however if it's taken four losses in five games to get this team fired up enough to do something about it, there are bigger issues at hand than just not being able to counter-punch an opponent.
Time, and the next game up, is the Badgers best friend though, whether it is Ohio State (like it is) or the little sisters of the poor, Wisconsin's time for talking is over, and it has been for a long time now.
So, until the words spoken ad nauseam turn in to a winning streak on the basketball court, I'm not buying what the Badgers are selling me.