Michigan State dropped Kansas on Tuesday night. Iowa and Indiana routed Big East opponents two nights later. Maryland, Michigan and Purdue each are also unbeaten and ranked in the AP Top 25.
At a time when the Big Ten is performing exceedingly well in non-conference play, one of the few exceptions is the reigning league champions.
A dropoff was inevitable for Wisconsin after losing five of its top seven players from a team that appeared in back-to-back Final Fours, but the way the Badgers have started the new season suggests that fall could be sharper than anticipated. Wisconsin lost for the second time in four games in Friday’s first Legends Classic semifinal, falling 71-61 to a Georgetown team that entered the tournament still searching for its first win.
Whereas Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky and the rest of last year’s Badgers formed one of the nation’s most potent offenses, this year’s group appears to be lacking weapons. Leading returning scorer Nigel Hayes had 22 points to keep Wisconsin within striking distance against Georgetown, but the Badgers could never make a sustained run because no other scoring threats emerged.
Bronson Koenig, the point guard expected to be Wisconsin’s co-star this season, shot just 2 of 12 from the field and couldn’t find much daylight coming off ball screens. Stretch forward Vitto Brown sank a couple of jump shots and redshirt freshman center Ethan Happ contributed at the foul line and on the offensive glass, but neither emerged as go-to options. Throw in a virtually silent performance from the Wisconsin bench, and it added up to 33 percent shooting from the Badgers.
The biggest issue is that Wisconsin seldom gets any easy baskets in transition and is too easy to guard in its half court sets. Georgetown simply stayed in a packed-in man-to-man and helped frequently on Hayes and overplayed Koenig coming off ball screens without fear that the rest of the Badgers would beat them.
The Hoyas weren’t explosive on offense themselves, but they did enough to avoid their first-ever 0-3 start. Backup forward Reggie Cameron scored 14 first-half points, promising sophomore forward Isaac Copeland carried Georgetown in the second half and guards D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and L.J. Peak didn’t shoot well but consistently got to the foul line.
Georgetown advances to the Legends Classic title game against Duke or VCU, where the Hoyas will attempt to even their record at 2-2. Wisconsin will continue to search for answers offensively in the third-place game against either the Blue Devils or Rams.
In Bo Ryan’s tenure as Wisconsin coach, the Badgers have never finished worse than a tie for fourth in the final Big Ten standings.
Between their sluggish start and the way the rest of the league is performing, extending that streak will not be easy.
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