Bitter Defeat in East Lansing
I have played, coached and followed basketball for 40 years. In those four decades, I have never encountered a team that finishes worse than the 2009 edition of the Wisconsin Badgers.
I mean that in two ways: Both near the basket and, as a team, at the end of games. This was highlighted on Sunday when UW once again gave away a game, this time at Michigan State in a 61 – 50 loss. As they did in four other close losses earlier in the Big(11)Ten season, Wisconsin controlled the game, leading MSU for 35 of the 40 minutes. Up by a dozen with a bit over 12 minutes to play, the Badgers promptly failed to hit a field goal for around nine minutes opening the door for the stunning 23 point swing.
Of course, it is hard to win when your team overlays, underlays and just plain can’t convert consistently under its own hoop. It is easy to point to Jon Leuer as the main culprit (as he continued to struggle in this department on Sunday), but no fewer than four other Badgers couldn’t put it down from point blank range.
To be fair, UW was playing a top 10 team on the road, so one could see this as a “good loss”. Moreover, during the first three-quarters of the game, they were active and smart, moving the ball well and moving well without the ball (perhaps because of what seems to be a new wrinkle in the Swing Offense: a frequent inside cutter providing fresh movement toward the basket, flushing player rotation through and outside).
What makes this loss even tougher to swallow is that it came to Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Izzo is a fine coach, probably headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame. But he is also something of a jerk, still whining about a 2003 loss in Madison when he felt UW rubbed it in with a last second dunk. Also, his histrionics on the sidelines are insufferable. Bo Ryan is now 11-4 in his last 15 games v. Izzo, so that is some consolation. However, it is not enough to salve the wound of seeing Wisconsin spit up another one they should have won.