As you may have seen or heard, the Big Ten Network reaired Wisconsin's win over Duke from last year on Monday night. While it was on, I received a text from a buddy that said, "I think I'm having more fun watching last year's team than this year's team even though I know how it ends."
As I watched the game unfold, I was reminded of how many scoring options Wisconsin had last year. With Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon, Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil on the floor, they had five guys who you could count on to knock down a shot on any given possession.
This year Hughes and Bohannon are gone and while Tim Jarmusz, Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz will make the occasional play/shot, you can't count on any of them to do it consistently. If last year's team had five guys you could count on to score, this year's team has three (Taylor, Leuer and Nankivil).
It's simple. Last year's team was better. And it doesn't seem like a crazy argument to make. The stats and quality of play over the first 20 games back it up.
Yet when I wrote on Twitter Monday night that the 2009-10 Badgers could beat the '10-11 Badgers by 20 points if they played head-to-head, I was told this was "a stupid statement" and I "don't know basketball because this team has Jordan Taylor who is much better than Hughes and an NBA level Leuer."
The only thing that was stupid about the statement is that it is impossible for the two teams to literally play each other. It's called hyperbole.
Guess what? Last year's team had Taylor and Leuer too. Taylor is a better scorer this year, but part of that is because Hughes' and Bohannon's absence have opened up more scoring opportunities for him. Meanwhile, I'm not entirely sure Leuer has improved all that much. He was pretty damn good last year and I've haven't seen the jump I expected from him this year. He still dominates at times and he still disappears in the second half too much.
And no player has come close to filling the void left behind by Hughes and Bohannon. Taylor was a starter in the second half of the season last year and the Badgers were already relying on his contributions. Therefore, he can't be considered as Hughes' replacement this year. Wisconsin needed someone from last year's bench or a true freshman to step up and fill that void and while Gasser and Bruesewitz have done that to some extent, it's unfair to think either could match what Hughes and Bohannon -- two well-seasoned veterans -- brought to the table last year.
Since today is Feb. 1, this year's team's resume with last year's team's resume on Feb. 1, 2010:
2009-10 Badgers (Feb. 1, 2010)
Overall record: 16-5
Key wins: Duke, Ohio State, Purdue
Key losses: at Green Bay
2010-11 Badgers (Feb. 1, 2011)
Overall record: 15-5
Key wins: at Marquette, Minnesota, Illinois
Key losses: at UNLV, at Penn State
I hate to break it to you, but this year's team has yet to rack up a signature win. The Marquette win is looking decent because it was on the road, but the Golden Eagles could still miss the tournament. As for Minnesota and Illinois, those are teams the Badgers are supposed to beat at home. Tonight's game against Purdue would be this squad's best of the season. But quite frankly, UW needs to sweep Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State at home to keep pace with last year's team.
The 2009-10 Badgers went on to finish 24-9 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten. That means only two more Big Ten losses in the regular season. With trips to Purdue and Ohio State remaining, two losses seems like the minimum. And do you trust this team to hold serve at home the rest of the way and avoid a slip up at say, Michigan?
In the end, it's likely the 2010-11 Badgers will be within a game or two of last year's team, but unless they pull off a shocker in the NCAA Tournament, this squad won't have a Duke-like win on their resume.
On top of that, don't forget that Leuer missed nine games last season with a wrist injury and the Badgers endured three losses without him, including the surprising home loss to Illinois.
And if the numbers aren't enough for you, go back and watch the Duke-Wisconsin game from last year. A simple eye test will make it obvious: Last year's Badgers were better.