The first key is to play solid defense. Through most of the games Wisconsin's defense has been very frugal in allowing other teams to score.
Comparing their statistics reveals Wisconsin rank third in the Big Ten in scoring defense. The Badgers have gotten more blocks, steals and more importantly caused more turnovers than they have made. Their aggressive style also hasn't come back to hurt them as they have a huge advantage in committing less fouls than their opponents. Head coach Bo Ryan may never be pleased with his expectations of a perfect defense, but most stat-trackers should agree there's no problem here.
The second key is to always control the boards. Again, Wisconsin can check this one off the list as well.
The Badgers have grabbed more offensive and defensive rebounds than their opponents for the year. It's also by large enough margin to put them in third place in the Big Ten for rebounding margin. That difference is a little more than five more rebounds per game. To get an estimate of how good that is, take away Alando Tucker's rebounding from Wisconsin and that now equals what their opponents average.
So it must the last item on the list, shoot smart and high percentage shots. This is where a breakdown in the Wisconsin gameplan occurs in every loss.
In the four losses this year, the Badgers have shown trends that are undeniably causing those defeats. They shoot five more three pointers a game while shooting four less shots from the field. That statistical brainteaser shows that when the threes aren't going in nobody is making up the difference on the boards. The threes clank off the rim and another possession is quickly lost.
Wisconsin is built as a team with quick players to get inside the paint. On most nights, Wisconsin players are more versatile than their opponents. Whether it's the guards getting penetration, forwards spinning off defenders to get downlow, or the centers stepping outside to create mismatches. Wisconsin scores most efficiently and effectively when the offense attacks the rim.
To fix this problem Ryan should stop giving the green light on long-range bombs to players who are cold. Without putting the restraints on distant shots, nobody is ever going to stop shooting them.
The underlying cause for the losses is the Badgers don't take it to the paint. With nobody in the paint, no one gets free points from the charity stripe. The Badgers have taken ten more free throws per game in their wins compared to their losses. With the team making 68 percent from the foul line, if they had shot their normal amount of free throws in the losses, they would only have one loss on their belt, not four.
Wisconsin's problem isn't that the shots are taking place, it's just that they keep coming. During some games they might be having an off night or the opponents defense could be top-notch. For much of the season the Badgers have been riding their talent past these weaker opponents. Now, in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, that simply won't cut it any longer.
The Badgers don't stop the bleeding when they need to. Someone needs to step back from the situation and get the team to stop living and dying with their outside shots.
The most likely candidate for that should be their unquestioned leader, probable All-American Tucker. Yet, he is a perfect example of this problem. Tucker settles for the outside shot when he becomes frustrated from not getting the ball in the post where he likes it. He takes what the defense gives him, yes, but great players take what they want from the defense.
His numbers follow the trends of the entire team. He shoots less free throws and more three pointers in the losses.
There is much upside to the team. Jason Bohannon with his bombs from downtown in the second half kept Wisconsin in the game against Ohio State. Kammron Taylor has shown in the past he can hit a clutch shot from the outside. Even Tucker, and his awkward and slow release, can shot well more often than its appearance suggests. But still, with the exception of Bohannon, all of the Badgers do other things offensively better than they shoot. The team isn't playing to its strength when it reluctantly shoots a three with seconds left on the shot clock.
In the four losses Wisconsin has created a known weakness. Make them shoot outside and they lose. But, they surely know their own problem as well. When the Big Ten tournament starts, maybe the Badgers can make sure all three keys are crossed off their list.