First, though, a reality check. Three of UW's four losses in this stretch came to ranked teams. And as poorly as the Badgers have been shooting the ball of late, it was clear Tuesday night that sixth-ranked Illinois was simply the superior team.
"(The Illini) were in the championship game last year," UW assistant Gary Close said. "They've got seniors that have won a lot of games. We're not going to just walk out there and get wins. We've got to play well. And we've had some success so we don't get anybody that's off their game.
Wisconsin has not been far off its game. But the Badgers have struggled to consistently make shots, and they were pounded on the glass in their last two outings, when they were out-rebounded by a combined 24.
Those struggles, though, are unlikely to define UW's season, unless the team's confidence slips to the point where they become entrenched. So far, Badger players and coaches do not see that becoming a problem, because the team is still putting forth the effort in practice and in games.
"I think where you start losing confidence is when you're not putting maximum effort in," Close said. "Then there's some doubt. If you're trying to prepare for a test and you don't study as hard as you should, then you go in there not quite as confident as you would be if you had.
"Same thing athletic-wise. If you're paying attention in practice, if you're working hard, if you're staying sharp in film sessions and things like that, you can fight through little mini-slumps that come with all types of athletics and athletes."
What if, however, an athlete is putting forth the effort, but results simply do not come? Say, for instance, shots do not fall. Effort leads to confidence, and confidence leads to effort. But what if effort and confidence do not lead to results. When does confidence, or effort, fall off?
"What you are trying to do is always have consistent effort," Close said. "And then with that you'll have consistent confidence for the most part.
"But there's no question there's got to be some success. It can't be a false confidence. So you get into stretches where things aren't going quite the way you want, your confidence is going to wane a little bit. But then you've just got to go back, get to the grindstone, keep busting and know that with that it will happen."
There is a bit of faith involved here, and simplification. It is much easier to convince someone to put forth effort than it is coerce them into abstractly grasping a hold of confidence.
"The team's confidence is not low at all," guard Michael Flowers said forcefully. "We lost to Illinois. They are a good team…..
"We didn't beat ourselves, and that's the main thing. When we go out there, we want to play hard. You don't want to turn the ball over and shoot yourself in the foot. If you go out there and play hard, another team beats us, then they were the better team that night."
There is no doubt, however, that the Badgers could really use a win Saturday, when they will face host Purdue.
"We need a win," Close said. "I don't think there's any question we need a win. But I think we're also realistic in a sense of who we've lost to. We've lost to three really good basketball teams. We could have had all of our team, played real well and still lost to all of those teams."
Boilers have it worse
But things could be much, much worse. Just take a look at Purdue's situation. The Boilermakers are arguably playing without four starters.
Carl Landry, a potential first-team All-Big Ten performer, is out for the season as he recovers from knee surgery. Senior guard David Teague, probably the Boilers' second best player, has not played at all this season because of a knee injury. And a knee injury has also spoiled the freshman campaign of promising forward Nate Minnoy, who averaged 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 26 minutes in 12 games, all starts.
Purdue's woes do not stop there. Junior guard Tarrance Crump, another potential starter, has been suspended from the team since he pled guilty to charges stemming from a drunk driving hit-and-run accident. And talented but turbulent freshman point guard Korey Spates was dismissed from the team less than two weeks ago.
Yet through it all, the Boilers have remained competitive, even if they have struggled to earn victories. Wednesday night it took Jeff Horner's ridiculous 7 of 10 three-point shooting and 32 points for Iowa to escape West Lafayette with a win.
But Purdue is 1-8 in conference, and 1-3 in league games at Mackey Arena. And the Badgers do not host Purdue this season, so Saturday's game is crucial for UW to win the season series and get back a game on the road, after losing a league game at home Tuesday.
"Every team in the Big Ten knows that if you can steal one on the road then that puts yourself in a good position to win the Big Ten title," Flowers said. "We go out there, and go to Purdue, and we have to steal one on the road. They are a good team and it's hard getting a win away from home."
What: Wisconsin (15-6 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) at Purdue (7-13, 1-8)
When: Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006 at 7 p.m. Central
Site: Mackey Arena (14,123) in West Lafayette, Ind.
Broadcasts: Televised live on ESPN Plus (WISC in Madison; WMLW in Milwaukee; WACY in Green Bay; WLAX in La Crosse; WEUX in Eau Claire) and broadcast live on the Wisconsin Radio Network.
Series notes: Purdue leads the all-time series 97-61, including a 63-16 mark at home… UW has won eight of the past 11 in the series, including the last three… Last season, Wisconsin won at Purdue for the first time since 1972. The last time the Badgers beat the Boilermakers in two consecutive road games was Jan. 8, 1916 and March 13, 1918.
Badger Nation prognostication: Wisconsin 68, Purdue 59