Badgers’ Bricks Lead To ‘Frustration’ For Struggling Wisconsin

    Wisconsin's perplexing three-week shooting slump needs to end Thursday before the Badgers' struggles carry over into the most important time of the season.

    February 15, 2017

    Wisconsin’s perplexing three-week shooting slump needs to end Thursday, lest the struggles carry over into the most important time of the season.

    Many felt bewildered when NCAA Tournament committee chairman and Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis revealed the group’s top 16 teams Saturday afternoon and didn’t announced a single one from his own conference.

    Wisconsin had the best case, entering that day 21-3 overall, 10-1 in Big Ten play and ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25. The Badgers, on the surface, seemed more than worthy of being included on the list.

    But the committee’s job is to scratch and dig beyond those numbers. And a deeper look proved Hollis’ team correct, and maybe even prescient given Wisconsin’s 66-59 home loss to Northwestern just over 24 hours later.

    The Badgers’ defeat was the culmination of an alarming three-week shooting slump masked by a mostly unimpressive eight-game winning streak that included overtime victories over Rutgers and Nebraska. Wisconsin ranked third in the Big Ten with a 48.0 field goal percentage through Jan. 24, but it has shot 37.5 percent over its last five games and went 19 of 50 from the floor in the loss to the Wildcats.

    Bronson Koenig is averaging 8.8 points while shooting 25.5 percent – 22.6 from 3-point range – during that stretch. Nigel Hayes has come on over the last two games, but he shot 30.8 percent over his previous four.

    Even standout sophomore big man Ethan Happ hasn’t been immune from the struggles. Happ has combined for 17 points and has more turnovers (seven) than field goals made (six) in the last two contests.

    Ethan Happ talks with Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard. Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    “I think for us, we’re getting everybody’s best shot,” coach Greg Gard said after the Northwestern game. “Knowing that we’re marked is good for us, and we’ll continue to learn and grow and get better. Now we’ll have another challenge ahead of us Thursday night at Michigan to see if we can improve.”

    It’s true that the Wolverines will be out for a resume-building victory as they sit squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. And they know they can play with Wisconsin after suffering a tough, 68-64 loss Jan. 17 in Madison.

    But the Badgers’ issues extend beyond seemingly inferior opponents gearing up to face them. There’s no doubt the shooting slump is affecting players mentally as it continues, something more concerning than a simple tweak of the elbow or flick of the wrist.

    If busting out of this slump required only a minor, quick fix, that would’ve been accomplished weeks ago.

    “Frustration. Frustration is the worst feeling,” Hayes said. “It’s similar to experience being a great teacher. Like a rat in a box, you can push it and food comes and that teaches you a lot. Or like if you put your hand on a hot stove, same reaction. But for some reason, you really don’t touch the stove anymore.”

    A hot hand remains the perfect solution, though. Maybe it only takes one Badger to get on a roll to set an example. But one thing is certain – Wisconsin won’t be making a deep NCAA Tournament run if the slump continues.

    “Apparently, we have to lose in order to learn the things we’ve already been saying,” Hayes said. So hopefully now … we can take that step from a mediocre/good team to a great team.”

    MORE: Nigel Williams-Goss Shares What Makes This Gonzaga Team Unique


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