Above the Rim with Brett Valentyn

It's rare for Wisconsin to lose nonconference games, especially out-of-league games at home. Until last week, it hadn't happened since the 2001 season, Bo Ryan's first year. In hisbi-weekly column for Badger Nation, former UW guard Brett Valentyn talks about rebounding from a loss and the mindset it plays on a UW basketball team.

I think we, Badger fans, get spoiled sometimes with the success of the basketball team. The expectations to win, especially at home, are extremely high. For a lot of programs around the country, fans would gladly accept losing to a No.5 North Carolina team on the road by three and a No.17 Marquette team at home by seven. They would be taken as great experience and as moral victories for many teams.

For Wisconsin, we took it as a really bad week. Under Coach Ryan, the program has come a long way and it's gotten to a point where we expect to win every game, and it's a negative surprise if we drop one, especially at the Kohl Center (and especially to Marquette). Wisconsin is a perennial national power, and it's a great sign that we are upset after losing these games. If Badger fans and players start shrugging off losing games, then there's a problem. I know the guys on the team were ticked off they lost these games and they play expecting to win every game.

Losing two games in a row to two quality NCAA tournament teams is no reason to panic, but it can cause players and fans to think "what is going on?" Teams generally go two different ways after losing a tough game, or failing to bounce back after losing a game. One way is for certain players to drift away from the team aspect, sacrifice the style most suitable for winning, and start playing the way that gets them the most individual satisfaction. Guys start trying to jack up shots and "forget" to play hard defense, while pointing the blame on the losses to the rest of the team or coaches.

As losing streaks can cause trouble for the stability of a team, winning steaks can cause a team to become complacent and stray from fundamentals. When the wins start to roll in, some players see it as their chance to improve their stats if the team is going to get the "W" either way. As a team gets more attention from winning, the spotlight gets bigger, and some guys can start to take advantage. When things are going well, sometimes its difficult to try to stay disciplined and focused on every defensive possession or offensive set. Complacency can set in, and sloppy play can ensue. Because of how Coach Ryan coaches and because of the unselfish players he recruits, none of this happens at Wisconsin. Over these years, Wisconsin has always had guys that care more about the well being of the team than their own statistics. The preparation for the next opponent after a loss or win stays the same, and the team-first attitude of the Badger players holds firm.

One of the phrases Coach Ryan has coined in his coaching philosophy is "next." It's a strong, resilient way of looking at things, and it is extremely relevant when attempting to bounce back after a loss. The next practice after any game starts with a film session in which we break down a set of clips from the last game and go through each one as a team. This isn't done to blindly reminisce about our highlights or be embarrassed of our mistakes. It is done to learn from each clip and apply them to the next opponent. Coach Ryan has us all write in our notebook binders during each film session, so we focus on continuing to improve over the course of the season, and keep the focus on the "next" game. After a win or a loss, Coach finds plenty of things we can do better. These sessions do tend to be a little less fun after a loss.

Once the film is done, it's back to the practice floor, where the routine does not change. We don't spend the next practice after a loss simply trying to correct every mistake we made the game before, and practices after wins aren't any more laid back. A drill may be put in to get an idea across or to improve in a certain area that had been lacking. But the idea of "next" is to be forward-looking in preparing for the next opponent, while applying what we learned from the previous game along the way. The key to bouncing back from a loss isn't to overreact and change everything up. You make adjustments along the way, but you keep the faith in your system, your coaches and your teammates. There is no room for winning teams to relax and slow their progress. This business-as-usual routine helps keep that cohesiveness and consistency that Wisconsin has had over the years under Coach Ryan.

Uncharacteristic of the success we've had over these years was a six game losing streak in the middle of the 2008-2009 Big Ten season. After starting 3-0 in the Big Ten season, we lost at Purdue, to Minnesota at home in overtime, at Iowa in overtime, at Illinois, Purdue at home and at Northwestern. I remember this as one of the most frustrating times in my career at Wisconsin. We weren't clicking offensively, balls weren't bouncing our way, we had a few late collapses and we flat out stunk all at the same time.

We eventually followed up this streak by rattling off 5 straight wins, and eventually making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. What got us out of that tailspin was our coaches' focus on sticking to trying to correct our mistakes and improve, and strong senior leadership in Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, who refused to let us tank the rest of the year. At times in this losing streak, we showed flashes of the kind of team we knew we could be. It was a matter of putting a full game together. While the season wasn't ideal, it was impressive how we eventually bounced back. It can be extremely tough, especially with the tough teams around the country and the tough venues in the Big Ten. And it seems that when it rains, it pours sometimes. However, with the system in place, when guys stay together, they will keep improving and learning in the program.

You saw this Wednesday night in the game versus Green Bay and Saturday versus UNLV. You saw a hungry, unselfish ball club that took care of business and showed no signs of panic. They showed focus and crisp passing on offense, confident shooting and discipline on defense. When this team plays like that, they'll be tough to beat. I expect this team, under the strong senior leadership of Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson, to continue to be consistent in how they prepare and bounce back from any setback or adverse situation.


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