The last time I spoke of the Badgers in this space, I titled the post "Let's Hope They Don't Shoot Us Out Of The Gym." You know what happened next. On Jan. 8, Wisconsin blew the doors off an Illinois team that had gained some serious confidence in the prior two weeks, exposing them for what they are now a month later: dead last in the Big Ten standings.
My fears heading into the game at the Kohl Center were realized during a torrential shooting performance from Wisconsin in the first half. A 20-point Illinois deficit followed, an obstacle tantamount to climbing Mount Everest naked. Good gracious, did this Badgers look like a Final Four team during that game. And I wasn't the only one to think that.
I figured Wisconsin's shooting percentages would cool slightly over the course of the season, but I didn't foresee where they are now. Wisconsin sits at 4-5 in conference play, has lost five out of its last six games and three straight at home, and has played some ugly basketball.
Here's a quote from my last preview with Wisconsin's 3-point percentages from its shooters:
And now here's the update just a month later: Kaminsky (41.1%), Brust (39.7%), Gasser (40%), Jackson (36.4%), Dukan (hardly plays), and Dekker (29.3%). It's a team-wide malady, too, as the Badgers have shot 24.7 percent from 3-point range over the last four games.
Hey, that's downright Illini of them to shoot that poorly!
Shooting fluctuates, but Wisconsin's biggest concern has to be Sam Dekker. He's in a tailspin of his own when shooting anywhere on the court. That wouldn't worry me all that much, except that Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan resorted to benching him in key situations against Ohio State in its last game. Dekker played only 12 second half minutes, and very few down the stretch.
Part of that was Bo opting to play freshman Nigel Hayes, who has been a load recently and seemingly the only Badger immune to the slump. He's playing more minutes and still producing efficiently. But was that Bo's only reasoning, or is there something more at work here? Has Dekker been hindering the Badgers? It's impossible to know at this point, but definitely something to monitor Tuesday night.
I don't dabble in predictions all that much. KenPom has Wisconsin winning 66-64--essentially, a toss-up game. Illinois played one of its most complete games of the season against Iowa, even in defeat. The Illini are not a very good team, certainly, but the schedule has been brutal and probably the toughest in the Big Ten. Facing Iowa and Michigan State at home are hardly reprieves, but those games are more favorable than road tilts against physical teams like Ohio State and Indiana.
Wisconsin is limping into Champaign carrying some of the same burdens Illinois has encountered in the Big Ten. Even if Wisconsin flips the switch and shoots better, I give Illinois more than puncher's chance to win this one.