It’s no secret. The Wisconsin Badgers haven’t been a good basketball team in the second half of the season, winning only four of their last 13 games after an 11-2 start.
Their season began to spiral when forward Tyler Wahl and guard Max Klesmit suffered injuries, and the Badgers haven’t gotten back on track upon their returns.
But, the biggest issue hasn’t been injuries, but rather a failure to execute the little things which have cost them several close games, be it a lack of boxing out or hitting free throws.
It’s a sentiment echoed all around the locker room, as players acknowledged this week how vital it is to get back on track against the Iowa Hawkeyes by doing the little things, which has been a message reiterated by head coach Greg Gard over the past few weeks.
Klesmit urged his team to be locked in for the entire 40 minutes, which hasn’t been the case recently, as the Badgers have gone on several cold shooting stretches for minutes at a time, while allowing teams to go on runs to creep back in or extend leads.
“I think we just gotta be able to, you know, stay in the whole game, play a full 40-minute game having everybody locked in, ready to go and ready to play,” Klesmit said. You know, we’re just getting in spurts right now where there are lapses. It’s not the entire deal of the game where we got to clean up a few moments, and I think we’ll be a lot better.”
Klesmit focused on the little things, prioritizing the need to build good habits, while acknowledging that the team currently has bad habits, which are hard to break.
“The mindset I think we need to have approaching all the little things and consistently doing those things right: it just starts everywhere. Starts when you get into practice, once you get in the film room, once you get in the weight room,” said Klesmit. “Because once you do it there, it just becomes habits. You rely on your habits and habits are hard to break. Same thing goes with bad habits, same thing goes with good habits. So just building those habits outside of the court and trying to clean up the little things all the time.”
Assistant coach Joel Krabbenhoft pointed to the early part of the season as evidence that the Badgers can be a consistent team, but understands that the team hasn’t been good enough on a day-to-day basis, and their habits need to change to become more successful.
“This team is fully capable of stacking more than one in a row and we’ve shown we can do it. And I think we’re going to see a concentrated effort to have things go our way. It doesn’t happen by luck. It doesn’t happen by chance,” Krabbenhoft said. “It happens by doing little things well every single day. Same story. Sorry. No secret answer here, but we got to be better at the little things every single day. And when you do those things, good things happen on the basketball court.”
Krabbenhoft reiterated Klesmit’s message that the Badgers need to break certain habits, pointing to defensive breakdowns and box-out issues that have allowed more opportunities for opposing teams.
“Habits are hard to break, good or bad. We got some habits that I think aren’t great at times and they rear their ugly heads in crucial times and crucial moments, whether it be a lapse in defensive breakdown, a lapse in box out. We’ve had more than one of those, right? So that’s a habit we have to break. How do you break those habits every single day? Doing the little things. That’s how you define that, doing the little things well. You got to do them every single day. It’s got to be a concentrated effort. It’s got to be in practice.
Forward Steven Crowl acknowledged the issues with consistency, as the Badgers haven’t won two straight since January 3rd, echoing forward Jordan Davis’s message that the team has been overconfident, which has eaten into their losses.
“I think it has been an issue. I just think we’d win a game, then we go lose the next game. We can’t put that consistency together. That’s what coach [Greg Gard] talked about,” Crowl said. “Consistency is one of the hardest things to have both as an individual and also as a team. So I think we got to have that. Yeah, we got to put two together if you want to make a run down here.”
The Badgers understand they have a problem with the little things.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been any remedy made by the coaching staff or the players, as Wisconsin continues to lose via defensive lapses and offensive cold stretches, while Gard reiterates the message of fixing the little things postgame.
It’s a good thing that Wisconsin understands its issues. But, what matters is results, and the Badgers haven’t shown that they have a solution to fix the little things.
Until they do, Wisconsin won’t be able to pile consecutive wins, keeping them on the bubble of the tournament with bleak hopes of making noise in March.