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I am really glad Wisconsin lost to Northwestern


NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Guys, gals, I’m really glad Wisconsin lost to Northwestern.


Look, this team has been great while simultaneously also not being very good lately. In reverse chronological order, here were the last four Badgers victories of their (now freshly broken) eight-game winning streak:

  • A 70-69 overtime road win against a crap Nebraska.
  • A 65-60 home victory against a reeling Indiana team whose fan base might drive Tom Crean way out to a nice farm in the country and leave him there.
  • A 57-43 road win against Illinois, a team whose fans are so sick of coach John Groce that our friends at The Champaign Room have a running thread about potential replacements.
  • A 61-54 overtime victory over a spry-but-two-years-away Rutgers team that required an epic three minutes of basketball to escape an embarrassing loss at the Garden.

Wins are great. We all love wins. But let’s be honest, these wins are not the mark of a team with aspirations of a deep tournament run. Of the bottom three teams in the Big Ten, two took the Badgers to overtime and could have (and, frankly, should have) beaten them.

The story of the weekend was that the NCAA hates us. No one enjoys an “NCAA is super-duper dumb” narrative more than I do (in terms of pure, kid-at-Christmas joy, they are up there with cake and this Every Interception Jay Cutler Has Thrown Against the Packers supercut).

But the honest truth is that right now, even with all the talent on the team, the NCAA is right—this isn’t a top-16 team.

The first step in any organizational improvement is clear-eyed understanding of who you are. You need to understand completely—without self-judgement, over-analysis or willful ignorance—every part of your team. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Success, particularly earned-but-also-kinda-lucky success, breeds complacency if an organization is not properly attuned to its underlying faults.

A relevant example: had the Badgers football team not been carpet-bombed from on high given up 384 yards and four touchdowns to Trace McSorley, it would have done so against USC in the Rose Bowl.

The issues that Penn State took advantage of had been there all season (Auth. note: If I can clearly identify a problem in coverage, you have a serious problem in coverage). If the Nittany Lions hadn’t caught them, the Trojans would have. Bank it. 100 percent.

With a month post-Big Ten Championship Game to address the flaws Penn State exposed, the Badgers tightened up things in the back and shut down Western Michigan’s previously high-flying offense.

Could they, would they have done so without being embarrassed on national TV? Maybe. Was the defeat critical to fixing the problem? Yes.

Losing sucks. Failing sucks. I hate it. I hate it when I do it in my life. Somehow, inexplicably, I hate it even more when the Badgers do it.

But losing, for lack of a better word, is good. Losing, particularly when the stakes are relatively low, can tell you just exactly who you are and how far you are from where you want to be.

A late-season, not particularly close loss at home to a decent-not-great team is clarifying. For a basketball mind as sharp as Greg Gard’s, it is no doubt illuminating. For a team at risk of over-confidence from feasting upon a weak Big Ten, it is a stark reminder that while things are pretty good right now, there’s still much to be done if this team is going to make noise in April.

The sky ain’t falling. This Wisconsin team has a ton of talent and (as a couple of dramatic overtime wins have shown) is resourceful and resilient. But this loss is more beneficial than another beat-the-teams-you’re-supposed-to-beat win would have been.

And as much as I hate seeing Wisconsin lose to Northwestern in anything, the Wildcats are actually the perfect team for this kind of defeat. They aren’t awful like Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers are awful, such that the loss falls into the “bad” loss category come Selection Sunday.

At this point in the season, Northwestern is more likely going to make the tournament than not. It is the type of team that Wisconsin is going to have to go through in, say, the Round of 32. If you were to pick the late-season diagnostic game that was least likely to hurt, this was probably the one.

With six regular-season games and a conference tournament left, the Badgers have plenty of time to get right. I think Northwestern just helped Wisconsin get there.