Return of Optimism

With hot shooting teams and defensive meltdowns behind them, Wisconsin basketball is riding a two-game winning streak and looking to make it three against lowly Iowa. Although one can't change the past, it's safe to say that the glass always could have been half full for Badger Nation.

MADISON - Most people, at this point, see this year's Wisconsin team as either bad, or mediocre. The football season revisited. I say they are neither, heck they might actually be a good team. The fact of the matter is that they have been in every single game since losing to Connecticut until the final minute. In fact in most cases, they have been in it until the final second.

Hopefully when Wisconsin (14-9, 5-6 Big Ten) hosts Iowa (13-11, 3-8 Big Ten) on Wednesday, it won't be a repeat of the last time these two teams played, where Iowa stunned Wisconsin in overtime at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

I'm not saying the Badgers are the cream of the Big Ten crop. No one can really argue that at this point. What I am saying, is that in a conference with as many good teams as the Big Ten has this year, its hard to give up so early. With all the crazy happenings all over the Big Ten – Michigan State losing at home to Northwestern and Penn State, conference respect from the national media, Minnesota not being a complete joke – anything can happen. The Badgers could, in theory, run the table and be 12-6 in conference play.

To the three of you still reading after that comment, I'll explain my reasoning. First, I'm not saying that's what I think will happen, I'm just saying it could. Take 20 points and put them at the end of regulation for any combination of games. Here's how I would do it for the Badgers:

at Marquette +4

vs. Texas +6

vs. Minnesota +1

at Iowa +1

vs Purdue +2

at Northwestern +4

Keep two points for a rainy day (or for Michigan State on February 22nd).

With 18 points, which averages out to a possession a game for you math majors, all of a sudden the Badgers are 20-3, first place in the Big Ten at 9-2, have a road win against a top 10 team, a non-conference win against a top 25 team, four conference wins against ranked teams, have no losses to unranked teams, have a record of 6-3 against top 25 teams and are projected in the 2-3 seed range for the tournament.

Take away 10 points and with only eight points, the difference in a fairly close game, the Badgers are still 18-5 (9-2 or 8-3 depending on if you take Northwestern or Marquette). Eight points.

If Wisconsin makes one or two buckets more, this team might not be as bad as you think. The Big Ten is better, Wisconsin has played the second toughest schedule in the country, ranked 28th in the RPI and have been the victims of some interesting officiating (Bo's T at Iowa, the last two minutes of the Minnesota game, etc) in tight games.

The Badgers have also been the victims of even more interesting bank shots, hot streaks, and overall super-human three-point shooting down the stretch.

The biggest reason to have faith in a second half turnaround in Big Ten play (already started with underdog wins against Illinois and at Penn State) is the schedule. It's not easy, but at this point every game is winnable. Even the two toughest games have factors that swing the games towards the Badgers favor. Michigan State has shown vulnerability to mediocre teams at home and Minnesota usually plays like a neutral game fan-wise with thousands of Badger faithful in the Barn.

This past week's games against Illinois and at Penn state were really to be the barometer for the team's chances of regaining the winning edge. Double-digit victories: Check.

If the team falters and the NCAA tournament seems just out of reach, there's always the Big Ten tournament. Playing senior Kevin Gullikson and sophomore Tim Jarmusz down the stretch could pay off for Coach Ryan when he needs to keep star players fresh while maintaining experience in the clutch.

With Bohannon finding his jumper and the team finding its defensive presence (opponents shooting 50.8 percent from the floor in the losing streak to 34.9 percent in the last two games), the Badgers have a shot to come back with a fury.

As any Big Ten coach will tell you, don't ever turn your back on a Bo Ryan team.


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