Greg Gard and the Wisconsin basketball program (16-8; 8-5) are past the midway point of Big Ten play, with only seven games remaining in the regular season. Things were going better than expected, at least up until the calendar flipped.
Since the February slate began, the Wisconsin Badgers have lost four consecutive games for the first time since 2017-18.
Those losses have come via uneven defensive performances, poor ball security, and an inability to connect from beyond the arc.
Joe Lunardi last projected the Badgers as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament because of their early resume-building wins. But they’re in danger of a steep decline if things don’t turn around fast.
Let’s break down how the Wisconsin men’s basketball team got here.
Wisconsin Basketball Turning the Ball Over Early and Often.
First and foremost, the Wisconsin Badgers are a program that’s built a foundation of success around taking care of the basketball and making the most of each possession.
During this four-game losing skid, they’ve reached double digits in turnovers three times, with the Purdue game being the only exception.
Against Rutgers, Wisconsin turned the ball over 12 times. To their credit, the Badgers only had one in the second half. However, it’s going to be pretty damn hard to dig yourself out of a hole on the road when you turn the ball over on 29.7% of your possessions in the first half.
Sometimes, the ball isn’t going to go in the hoop, and you’re going to have stretches where finding offense is tough; that’s to be expected. But winning those games becomes a lot more difficult when you continually throw away possessions.
Last year, Wisconsin basketball ranked No. 3 in turnover percentage, according to KenPom. The Badgers have dropped to No. 58 this season, potentially marking the first time in the last five seasons under Greg Gard that they would finish outside the top 15.
This is where something has to change—because poor ball security has been a concerning trend for Wisconsin basketball this season, and they must find a way to overcome it to get back on track.
Wisconsin Basketball Shooting 25% From Beyond the Arc.
Taking care of the ball is number one. But Wisconsin basketball can’t find any consistency from beyond the arc during this losing streak.
Before the Nebraska game, Wisconsin was shooting a respectable 36% from 3-point territory, however, those numbers have taken a hit.
In their last four contests, the Badgers are shooting just 23 of 90 from three-point territory (25.5%). Some of this comes down to questionable shot selection, and some is simply the product of shooting variance.
According to KenPom, Wisconsin is shooting 34.1% on the season, placing them as the No. 153 team in the country from beyond the arc. This isn’t a terrific shooting team by any means, but they’ve also shown that they’re much better than what we’ve been seeing the last two weeks.
From where I’m sitting, it feels as though Wisconsin has gotten away from playing inside out, finding open cutters, and is more often settling for jumpers than you’d like. I’d love to see the Badgers re-commit to getting the ball inside and generate more trips to the charity stripe.
Even after this concerning offensive stretch, Wisconsin is still No. 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Don’t let this losing skid cause you to forget that it wasn’t long ago this team was a well-oiled machine.
Nobody knows if they’ll be able to make the proper adjustments, but it’s likely that the truth about this team lies somewhere in between what they were doing before the losing streak and some of what we’re seeing now.
What Happened to Badgers Center Steven Crowl?
One of the primary reasons the Wisconsin basketball team’s offensive efficiency has taken a step back over the last two weeks is that junior big man Steven Crowl has seemingly disappeared.
For most of the season, the Minnesota native has been a steady low post presence for the Wisconsin Badgers, an efficient scorer, and above all else, a terrific facilitator. Behind Chucky Hepburn, who leads the team in assist rate (20%), Crowl is the next most important shot-creator at 15.1%.
In short, Big Steve has been a huge piece of the Wisconsin basketball team’s offensive puzzle because of his ability to make opponents pay by setting up his teammates when garnering more attention from help defenders.
However, teams have taken notice and made adjustments that Wisconsin men’s basketball needs to figure out. We’ve seen teams begin to double the post much more aggressively — and Crowl has vanished as a result.
Over the last four games, Crowl has averaged 4.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game on 35% shooting from the field.
“We got to get him going because that’s been another common denominator here,” Gard said. “We got to get him playing to his potential.”
Whether it’s been a lingering knee issue, fractured confidence, or something else entirely, figuring out how to get Crowl back on track will be imperative for Wisconsin to right the ship.
All these things taking a turn for the worse have combined to take the Wisconsin basketball program from a team that exited January in first place in the Big Ten to a team tied for third place.
Injuries to Kamari McGee and John Blackwell have played a part in some of the struggles. That said, there’s enough depth on this team that the Badgers have to find a way to work through it. That alone can’t cause you to implode.
But all hope is not lost.
You might remember that Wisconsin basketball lost five of six games during the middle of the 2013-14 season, and they went on to make a Final 4 run. I’m not suggesting that’s what will happen here, but even good teams endure ruts they have to work their tail off to overcome.
KenPom projections have the Badgers winning six of their final seven contests, with the lone loss coming against Purdue on the road. Their home game against Illinois is their only opponent other than Purdue, ranked inside the KenPom top 50.
So there’s reason to believe they’ll string together some wins to close out the season.
If Wisconsin can get back to playing better defense, find a way to get Steven Crowl back on track, and take better care of the basketball, many other issues will sort themselves out.
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