It is time to face the facts. This basketball team just isn't that good, at least for the time being, anyway.
In their toughest games this season against higher-level competition, the Badgers have struggled to score efficiently and their normally stout defense has been below average. That trend continued Saturday.
Wisconsin fell to 6-4 on the season after a 60-50 loss to in-state rival Marquette at the Bradley Center. The Badgers trailed, 7-0, in the first two minutes and put forth a lackluster effort throughout the rest of the first half as they went into the break trailing, 34-20.
Marquette's Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue combined for 35 points, 8 assists and just one turnover to lead the Golden Eagles to their second consecutive win against Wisconsin in the battle for state bragging rights. Their in-your-face pressure defense also flustered the Badgers' starting backcourt.
Traevon Jackson finished 1-of-6 from the field and tallied just three points while turning the rock over four times. Ben Brust wasn't a whole lot better, finishing 3-of-13 from the floor (2-of-9 from deep) for only eight points.
The Badgers' poor guard play has Bo Ryan trying to find answers that simply aren't there. For instance, why in the world was Ryan Evans bringing the ball up the court and initiating Wisconsin's offense for about a 10-minute stretch early on in the second half? If that has to continue, it will be a long season for Badger faithful.
Josh Gasser, where are you? Sure that knee is in fact blown out? His lack of presence was clearly missing in the hostile Bradley Center today because Wisconsin looked out-of-sorts for the majority of the game. They entered the contest averaging just 9.8 turnovers a game, the fourth-fewest in the country... they had 10 turnovers at the half.
Gasser's injury was clearly overlooked at the beginning of the season by most fans and basketball pundits. Wisconsin fans have seen Bo lose prominent players before, replace them with new guys and somehow, the Badgers don't miss a beat the following year. But Gasser's loss is different. Wisconsin was already trying to transition out of the Jordan Taylor era, and trying to adapt without their next-in-line leader has been nothing short of a disaster thus far.
Look, I know it is a long season and the argument "We'll be okay, there is a still a ways to go" will be voiced by much of the Grateful Red. But at what point do you start to truly worry?
The answer: right now.
We are a third of the way through the season and the Badgers have shown no real signs of improvement against the upper-echelon of competition on their schedule. Throw in the fact conference play is right around the corner and fans should cringe. Six Big Ten teams are currently ranked and Wisconsin is not at all in its league right now.
Another alarming sight from Saturday: the Badgers were outhustled and outscrapped by Marquette. Losing Mike Bruesewitz to a concussion is a partial reason for that, but still, it took the Badgers an entire half of basketball against one of their biggest rivals to act like they wanted to even be in the gym. This team cannot afford to be outworked on a nightly basis because it will flounder mightily in the toughest basketball conference in America.
Maybe expectations for this Wisconsin team, at least around Madison, were in fact overblown for one of the first times in Bo's tenure. The talent just isn't great.
Sam Dekker started his first collegiate game Saturday and didn't take advantage. He was one of the only guys to bring it in the first half, but finished 2-of-10 from the floor for just six points and lacked the aggression Badger fans have been pining for all season. We all know Dekker is going to be one of the all-time greats, but his assertiveness has to pick up if Wisconsin is to go anywhere this season.
Zak Showalter is going to be a fantastic guard under Ryan someday and he can be dynamic as an athlete. But on a typical Wisconsin team -- one that finishes in the top four in the conference, as has always been the case under Ryan --he would rarely get tick as a freshman. Saturday, he was the first guy off Bo's bench. That really tells you all you need to know.
Another guy who just has to play better in all phases is Ryan Evans. Many people were expecting him to shoulder more of the scoring load for Wisconsin this season following Taylor's departure, but his play has regressed from last year. His defense has been subpar and his free throw shooting is egregious. He was 1-of-9 from the line today -- that one make came off a line-drive bank.
Evans' shooting from the charity stripe personifies the Badgers' performances against quality teams: just a bit off. If that doesn't change, and quick, this will turn into Wisconsin's worst year under its future Hall of Fame head coach.