Imagine you are in a college town at the tail end of a snowstorm in the middle of the holiday season. The local basketball team is playing host to a virtual unknown from somewhere, who knows where, out west that you would normally deem a cupcake. Before the game tickets are being given away outside the arena.
How would you expect the atmosphere to be indoors?
Yes, terrible. I knew that ahead of time, of course, so I had nice 100-level seats for last night's Idaho State game at the Kohl Center. The place seemed about 65-75% full and the only excitement in the air came on the game's final play after Trevon Hughes' lane violation on a missed free throw. As inconceivable as it would have sounded an hour earlier, the Bengals (2-6) had a chance to beat the Badgers (7-2) with one simple 3-pointer in the final seconds.
So the crowd stood and cheered. Finally.
Forget about Saturday's loss to Marquette. A three-point loss to a senior-laden, bonafide Top 25 team on its home court I can live with. But letting a Big Sky team from the land of Napoleon Dynamite hang around for the entire 40 minutes? That gets on my nerves.
Yes, Idaho State beat Utah and lost narrowly in overtime sessions to three other teams. But those teams stink. Is Wisconsin no better than Long Beach State, Boise State and Hawaii? The Badgers were ice cold from the field and needed a last-second trey from Jason Bohannon to sneak into the locker room up 29-27 at the half. When the team came out flat yet again to start the second half, Bo Ryan called a timeout to rip into his players a bit.
The Badgers seemed to heed the guidance, as they immediately started hitting the post and forcing action inside. It's unfortunate that it came to that, though. And even then, I noticed several times down the stretch where either Marcus Landry or Joe Krabbenhoft had their defenders sealed as big targets, but did not get more than a glance from their perimeter teammates.
What I was looking for during the game was some energy and aggressiveness from Wisconsin. Were they "playing down" to their home crowd's level? That's no excuse. Maybe the team misses the leadership of Michael Flowers and Brian Butch more than we would like to admit.
I began to wonder if any aggressiveness would show up without Bo's prodding. The team took too many 3-pointers (22) and let Idaho State's zone defense dictate what the Badgers wanted to do, instead of taking back their house. Fortunately, Wisconsin's typical advantages -- rebounding and free throw shooting -- bailed out the Badgers.
Yet, Wisconsin looked pretty silly closing out the game against the full court press, just like it did the entire game against Marquette's pressure defense. I think the argument that Wisconsin struggles on inbounds plays is valid, however, it is simply an extension of the team's struggles against any type of pressure.
You have to attack aggressiveness with aggressive action yourself. On one particular inbounds play, Bohannon simply expected to be fouled and did not even try to dribble out of the pressure. Well, sure enough, he found himself in a nice little Bengal trap and Krabbenhoft had to burn a timeout. It was pathetic. Wisconsin's ballhandlers must improve against pressure in the half-court offense too if that is what is causing trouble getting the ball inside regularly.
None of this would be the difference between winning and losing if it were not for the growing pains on defense, where this year's team is not up to snuff. Wisconsin allowed Idaho State to shoot over 53%. [box score] While perhaps more inspired against the Golden Eagles, Wisconsin held Marquette closer to 40% shooting, yet fouled too often and lost the offensive rebounding battle, swinging normal advantages into disadvantages that resulted in a tough loss.
On the bright side it's still early. On the downside, there is a lot to work on, because Texas and A.J. Abrams are just around the corner.