As much as I hate to admit it, it is no secret that the Badgers have struggled mightily over the past couple weeks. After averaging 78 points per game over the non-conference schedule and 74 through the first part of the conference schedule, the Badgers have hit a road block that started with a toilsome game at Rutgers. In that game, the Badgers, a nationally regarded top 10 team, needed an overtime to knock off a team that routinely finishes last in the Big Ten. Did I mention the final score was 61-54, and the Badgers accumulated only 45 of those points in regulation? And do I need to mention again that the opponent was Rutgers? Only a heroic effort from Ethan Happ (32 points) kept them from one of the more embarrassing losses in recent memory.
Against the hopes of the Badgers’ faithful, the offensive struggles did not stay in New York. Since that day, the Badgers have struggled to wins over three more teams sitting near the bottom of the Big Ten: Illinois, Nebraska, and Indiana. The win over Indiana came with the Hoosiers missing arguably their two most significant contributors, NBA prospect James Blackmon Jr. and likely lottery pick OG Anunoby. In all three wins, the offense produced just enough to pull out the victory, with the defense stepping up big and being forced to carry a disproportionate amount of the load.
Then, the Badgers struggles finally caught up to them. The offense labored through a rare Kohl Center loss against Northwestern, and then stalled once again in tonight’s loss at Michigan. With a blink of an eye the Badgers have squandered their two game lead in the Big Ten.
So what exactly is the problem?
First off, there are a number of individual issues plaguing numerous Badgers. Bronson Koenig has struggled to hit shots, D’Mitrik Trice has cooled off greatly after a torrid start, and Vitto Brown has lost the three-point shooting ability that made him so effective down the stretch in 2016. Combined over the last six games, those three have shot a combined 22.6%. It is just not plausible for a team to be successful when three of its key contributors shoot a percentage that low.
Second, Nigel Hayes has been missing from the offensive picture far too often. He has abandoned the face-up jumper that used to make his game oh so sweet, and the three point shooting struggles that plagued him for the 2015-2016 season have been just as prevalent. Without the threat of a jump shot, it has been difficult for him to get into the lane and score at the volume that is expected out of a player of his caliber.
Finally, the lack of a significant three point shooting threat over the last six games has led to an unsustainable reliance on Ethan Happ. When the defense collapses in on him and he kicks the ball back out for a shot, the Badgers have simply not been able to knock them down. Furthermore, by giving Happ so much time with the ball in his hands, the offense has lost all sense of fluidity. The swing offense that the Badgers usually run with a sense of serenity has turned into a choppy system.
Despite these problems, there is still plenty of time for the Badgers to turn it around. They have shown how good of a team they can be many times this season, and the fact that they had been able to hang on in so many close games shows that they can grind it out when shots aren’t falling; the cause for concern is that this offensive drought has been prolonged. This is a very talented team that just is not playing up to their potential at the moment. All these problems are fixable, as the team most certainly does not suffer from a simple lack of skill. Greg Gard knows this team better than anyone, and I have no doubt that he will right the ship in time for a run in March.