MADISON - Last Thursday the conventional wisdom was that the Badgers were peaking at the right time.
They were riding a three-game winning streak after beating Ohio State, Northwestern and Nebraska by a combined 81 points. During that stretch the Badgers shot 50 percent from the field, 56.7 percent on 2-point field goals and 39.3 percent on 3-pointers. Despite a slow start in the non-conference season the Badgers were sitting in a tie for second place in the Big Ten, and looked like a lock for another top-four finish and a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
But in the end it just goes to show how quickly conventional wisdom can be turned on its head. The Badgers are now out of the running for a share of the Big Ten title following their 58-43 loss to Michigan State last night in East Lansing. And now they'll need help from other Big Ten teams to secure a top-four finish in the Big Ten, if they can beat Penn State on the road this Sunday.
The fall has been as dramatic as their three-game hot streak. Including their 69-56 loss to Purdue earlier this week on Senior Day the Badgers have shot just 34.5 percent from the floor over their last two games, including just 19.6 percent on 3-pointers. They've also been out-scored in the paint 58 to 30, and have given up 41 points off of turnovers.
It's uncharacteristic, and as a whole the Badgers aren't as bad as they've played over their last too games. But they're running out of time to fix their shooting woes with just two guaranteed games left. March Madness is just a week away, and a 4-for-35 3-pointer streak doesn't normally translate to many wins this time of year.
"A lot of times we got stagnant and forced some shots. But at other times we got good looks and things didn't go down for us," freshman forward Sam Dekker said Friday. "That's something that we've got to try and correct."
But at the same time, the Badgers will have to make sure they don't press themselves too hard to break out of their shooting streak. Dekker said the best way for them to get back on track is to move on from these last two games and focus on the Nittany Lions.
"The more pressure you put on yourself the tougher it's going to be to get out of that stuff," Dekker said. "Like I said, you have to forget about the previous games and do what you do every time. The more you think about it the less it becomes natural."
The Nittany Lions are currently riding high after winning two of their last three games, their first and second Big Ten wins of the season. The Nittany Lions are shooting just 39.1 percent from the floor for the season, but in their two wins over Michigan and Northwestern the Lions shot over 47 percent from the field and 41.8 percent on 3-pointers. The Badgers have also struggled against Penn State in the past, and can't afford to over look them if they want to earn a bye for the conference tournament.
"They play hard all 40 minutes, so you've got to be ready to go," junior guard Ben Brust said. "You've got to match their intensity and bring more than what they do to get on the right track here heading in to the tournament."
The Badgers said they haven't lost any morale from missing out on a share of the Big Ten's regular season title, but they'll need to get their house in order quickly if they want to avoid limping in to he postseason. Even if they miss out on a first-day bye, heading into the tournament with a win is much more preferable than the alternative.
"Michigan State dropped three in a row and they came out and handed it to us," Dekker said. "Hopefully we can do what they did to us to Penn State and not limp into the tournament."
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