The memories are so clear. Mere weeks ago, the Badger men's basketball team was humming along, everyone was contributing, and Bo Ryan's world appeared as beautiful as Tuscany in springtime. Fans and writers, yours truly included, rushed to lay rose petals at the players' feet. Before Christmas, back when UW was still undefeated, I wrote that Ryan's "track record suggests he could have the team playing even better a month from now." Ha! What an idiot.
Winter settled in hard, and the Badgers' season has hit a slab of black ice. Even with a win Tuesday night over a wretched Illinois team, UW has dropped five of its last seven games and vanished from the AP national rankings.
The biggest concern is you can't identify one problem in particular that's killing the team. The leaks have been everywhere. Poor three-point shooting. Sieve defense. Long stretches last week without a bucket from any distance. No one seems to have the confidence to take and make a big shot.
The bad defense has been mystifying, given the primacy of making stops in Ryan's philosophy. Indiana's Yogi Ferrell easily reached the basket time after time. Michigan found open shots all night and enjoyed long stretches during which it couldn't miss. Minnesota dominated inside against the Badgers.
They played slightly better defense last week, but an old bugaboo -- cold shooting -- doomed them to two more losses at the hands of Northwestern and Ohio State. Against the Wildcats, the Badgers made only 26% of their field-goal attempts. Saturday, they threw away the OSU game by managing exactly zero baskets and missing a ton of free throws in the final six minutes.
I have to think UW will fight through its slump and begin playing better soon. Or not. The Badgers have lost three consecutive home games for the first time under Ryan, so we're in uncharted territory.