Numbers explain part of the reason for the six-game losing streak. Wisconsin allowed opponents to shoot well above 50 percent from the field. The difficult schedule also brings some explanation because four of the games came against ranked opponents, with the other two being away games.
In past seasons, Wisconsin has overcome those things. Coach Bo Ryan's teams have prided themselves on grinding out tough games with consistency, sticking to the gameplan and finishing off teams in the end.
"We need to start fast and finish strong," said guard Jason Bohannon. We've had times in games where we had a three or four minute stretch (during the losing streak) where we didn't play Wisconsin basketball."
So, can't they consistently play Wisconsin basketball?
Just a theory here, but maybe for the first time in years, Wisconsin lacks a dominant player. That maybe the team, while solid at every position, is missing that assassin who takes over in the closing minutes of a game. A stud that hits the big shot or makes the key pass to end a losing streak.
Right now, the team lacks that player and these numbers don't lie.
During the recent skid, the Badgers have lost by an average margin of 5.3 points with two of the losses coming in overtime. Overall, Wisconsin is now 4-5 in games decided by four points of less this season.
Each great team needs a clutch player; someone who has a certain amount of pure talent to carry the load. That leaves only four players, and two of them can't do it because one is too one-dimensional (Jason Bohannon) and the other has limited scoring ability (Joe Krabbenhoft). We are left with only Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry as possibilities.
Let's begin first with the point guard Hughes. He has displayed remarkable improvements on defense while limiting his turnovers. He scores points in bunches and leads the team in assists. But on several occasions – most notably against Marquette – Hughes doesn't make the best decisions in the closing minutes. By forcing shots and making unfamiliar moves, he seems uncomfortable being the closer on this team.
As a 6-foot-7 230-pound forward, Landry has the potential to dominate. Not only the team's leading scorer this season, he has had great teachers. He grew up playing against his older brother, former Purdue Boilermaker Carl Landry, and was also tutored by Alando Tucker, perhaps the most dominant player in Wisconsin's history.
But everyone has been waiting for Landry to develop into that player. As a senior, there is no time left for him to do it anymore. During numerous games this year, he has not been clutch, in particular - his 3-for-15 night against Purdue in the toughest game of the year.
Instead, Wisconsin fans should face the fact the team does not have a dominant player on this roster. As Rick Pitino famously said, "Larry Bird ain't walking through that door anymore," the same could be said for the Badgers except insert 'Mr. Clutch' for Bird's name.
Let's not get confused here about this point. Wisconsin has three players who are in the top half at their position in the Big Ten with Hughes, Krabbenhoft and Landry. The team has been one of the five most winningest programs in the past decade.
Wisconsin's current problem is that the system desperately needs a dominant player. The Badgers' strategy is much like a baseball team that's built around pitching: play outstanding defense, limit turnovers and keep the score low. What may be the biggest part of that equation is timely hitting, or in Wisconsin's case clutch plays.
When the Badgers are able to control the game, much like they did Thursday night in a 13-point win against 23rd-ranked Illinois, they are one of the best teams in the country. The Fighting Illini scored only 50 points on just 32 percent shooting. When it's a style of play they don't like, Wisconsin needs someone to take over.
Being the dominant player doesn't require huge numbers or mounds of points. Think back to last year with Michael Flowers makes the last second steal against Texas. That was a clutch play when the team needed something to happen.
As great as he was, Flowers wasn't nearly on the level of Tucker's game, but he was dominant when he needed to be on both ends of the floor. Because in do-or-die moments, Flowers stepped up when the team seemed out of options.
During this losing streak, the Badgers have had 13 field goal droughts lasting at least four minutes. Try making an argument that Tucker or Flowers wouldn't have a found a way to score a single bucket.
"Losing those games came down to the final few possessions. Us either making mistakes on our scoring drive or the other team is getting hot," said Landry. " (Against Illinois), we maintained our lead and that's why we were successful."
And that was their problem. More than the sudden lack of defense or an increasingly tough schedule, the Badgers lacked a clutch player who could dominate a game that isn't going their way, and more importantly, someone who ends losing streaks.