After an inspiring undefeated non-conference schedule the University of Wisconsin Men’s basketball team dropped two consecutive games both to unranked Big Ten opponents. With these two losses one cannot help but wonder what went wrong. This team, who was Final Four bound less than two weeks ago, is now at the bottom looking up at the top of the Big Ten. Is this cause for alarm in Madison? Will Bo Ryan’s Badgers get things together and toughen up for the far bigger games circled on their schedule i.e. Michigan State and Ohio State at home? Wisconsin looks to refocus before they dive into conference play. This ship isn’t far from being righted back on course.
The first obvious issue is the Badger’s lack of size. They essentially run a three-guard offense, brand new to the loyal “grind it out” Badger style that Bo has taught the Grateful Red to expect. The Badgers only start two players who hit six foot four or above giving them a significant size disadvantage at the three spot. Bo places the battle tested Josh Gasser returning from ACL surgery that kept him out of last season play into that position. Gasser is easily the Badgers’ best defender. Josh more than handles the size disadvantage that is thrown at him. However, in the last two games this particular matchup has proven to be a flaw in the potent Wisconsin defense. With Gasser finding himself in foul trouble in the past two games, Ryan has gone to the likes of the Duje Dukan and Nigel Hayes for some crucial minutes. Duje, at this point in his career, reminds me of a young Mike Bruesewitz. Duje is a hustle man off the bench, always blocking out and rebounding efficiently with a dead eye from long range. He is shaky with the ball and not the best one-on-one defender but provides the energy Bo Ryan demands from his players. Look for Duje to be the difference in late conference games and possibly the NCAA Tournament come March. Hayes, a talented and athletic freshman, has seen more minutes than anyone had ever expected to see him bank this year. He is making the most of his time and was even named Big Ten Freshman of the week in two consecutive weeks. Those two players and their development throughout the year will be vital for the Badgers success in close games.
Another story line in the Badger’s slight slump is Sam Dekker, or rather, the absence of Dekker. This super sophomore was thrown into his second year with plenty of hype surrounding him. During the undefeated campaign, Sam delivered. He averaged 14.3 points a game and threw in three double doubles. However, Sam has virtually disappeared in the last two games, especially in the closing minutes averaging only 10 points per contest. This is where Sam needs to be the go-to guy, mainly because Wisconsin doesn’t really have one. Dekker is “The Guy” in Wisconsin, a top twenty-five recruit coming out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin; we all are expecting him to perform. With a more than satisfactory freshman year, all be it hindered by lack of playing time behind senior starter Ryan Evans, Sam has been given the reigns and needs to take control and make the big shots. Expect big games from Dekker in the near future. Sam is a very humble, hard-working young man who is more than aware that his game and production level need to be brought up.
Despite these issues, fans need to take the Badgers for what they are; a 16-2, young, perhaps undersized, top-ten basketball team with one of the best coaches in the business. So hang in there Badger fans, this team will hit its stride once more and, with the taste of defeat fresh in their mouths, they will be more than ready come March.
By Sawyer Bock