Woooooo. So, that was a fun game. Until, I guess, the final two minutes or so, where Texas just made a couple plays (chasing down that offensive board, nailing that Brian Butch-at-Indiana-esque shot late, playing tough switch defense on Hughes) and Wisconsin didn't make enough. Maybe I should be pissed off. Maybe I should be wondering where Wisconsin's offense went in the last few minutes, or why they couldn't chase down that long rebound late. But I'm not too upset. Stuff like that happens. This game is entirely different if either Kevin Gullickson or Tim Jarmusz or Pop Hughes hit two more free throws. And Texas wins a tough game on the road by hitting an absurd 15 of 16 free throws (they were averaging 62% foul shooting on the season). The Badgers miss seven, Texas misses one. There's the difference. Twas a tough, hard-fought game against a very solid, talented Texas team, and in those situations, it often comes down to those details-- last minute execution, and foul shooting. But a good, good game.
Anyhow, I think the take away is that they're close. This Wisconsin team is pretty decent right now, and is close to being pretty damn good. The defensive rotations are vastly improved. The increased number of post touches were excellent (I love seeing Krabbenhoft exert himself down there like he did tonight). Leuer is looking more and more like Dirk Novitzki every day. The thing is, it's all still a work in progress. The freshmen guards are just not contributing enough to properly spell Bohannon and Hughes. Nankivil flashes and disappears. Against big opponents, Marcus plays tight and ends up a bit overaggressive (his foul trouble this game reminded me of his struggles against UConn). A little bit more scholarship frontcourt depth (hello, Ian Markolf) would be helpful. (Gavinski being a total noncontributor in his third year in the program is a real bummer. A servicable big body would have been a big help last night.)
Given all of that, I don't really see Wisconsin being a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title. The league is quite deep, and while the season-long trajectory should be up, this team's learning process just seems like it's going to continue to take some time. Thus, I'm going to act like a Sparty fan, I've decided. "The regular season doesn't matter! (Except when we win.) It's all about the post-season, man! Come tournament time, it's going to be on." This team should continue to grow and improve as things progress. They'll likely be some stops and starts, and also some big encouraging moments. But my goals for the regular season are pretty limited-- one loss or less at home during the conference season, qualification for the tournament, and single digit tournament seeding. Really, I'm getting psyched for the tourney already-- because that's when this Badger team should be peaking. Hey, only two and a half months away, right?