Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Illinois can celebrate tonight; Wisconsin can learn.

The Wisconsin Badgers came into tonight’s game against the Illinois Fighting Illini with the second seed in the Big Ten and a 51-0 record against unranked conference opponents under Bo Ryan. A win means they are 9-3 with only one game left against a winning team in the conference. However, the Badgers weren’t able to defend their court, losing 63-56 to Illinois.

“It is tremendous,” said Demetri McCamey about the win against Wisconsin in a post-game interview, “It gave us confidence… We are ready to win basketball games.”

The streak is over and, more importantly; they fell behind four teams in the loss column. Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are the other teams; but the difference is, Wisconsin defended their home court against those teams. They now have to win at Illinois to complete the split in the season series. Another loss against the Fighting Illini and they will lose the tiebreaker, a tiebreaker that may mean either facing a lower seeded Big Ten team or team such as Purdue or Ohio State in the second round of the conference tournament.

When we think of this season, the loss tonight may stand out over any other one this season. In order for the Badgers to go deep in the NCAA tournament, they need a high seed and a favorable match up. Finishing fifth, which is where they stand now, in the conference and losing a second round game in the Big Ten tournament will not give them the second or third seed they may need to go past the Sweet Sixteen, or even the second round.

The only good news about the loss tonight, despite the 35 percent field goal shooting or the 2 for 14 shooting from downtown in the last ten minutes of the game, is that they do have a favorable schedule down the stretch. The Badgers can finish strong and still get a high seed for the Big Ten tournament. If Wisconsin takes the Illinois game like a learning experience, the one thing to take away is the end of the game. Illinois made the injury to Jon Leuer hurt with a 16-6 advantage in the paint. The Badgers are going to have to play better against the pick and roll against taller teams until Leuer gets back.

McCamey and Mike Tisdale combined for 46 points, helped by points in the paint and jump shots after a pick and roll play. They were outscored 22-16 in the paint in the loss at Ohio State, and they lost 22-14 in the paint in the loss at Michigan State, although Leuer wasn’t injured yet for the Spartan game. In both the conference and NCAA tournament, the Badgers must either shoot better or stop teams from getting easy buckets in the paint. Maybe a loss like this, at home where the Badgers are normally dominant, will give Wisconsin a wake up call. They mustn’t get away from their game, and they must be patient. Most importantly, they have to take care of business against the bottom of the Big Ten.

Regardless of the Badgers woes, tonight is a night to celebrate if you’re an Illinois fan. They now have back-to-back wins against two of the best teams in the conference and the nation. With losses against Bradley and Utah, these wins against top RPI teams are huge. Illinois may have punched their ticket for the Big Dance already, but they still have a tough schedule, with games at Ohio State and Purdue and a home game against Wisconsin. They can very easily lose all of these games and drop down in the standings (and the eyes of the selection committee). Regardless of the future, they can crack the corks in Champagne, Ill., for the moment. For now, they are 9-3 in the tough Big Ten and, if the season ended today, would be the second seed in the conference tournament. It should be a fun race down the stretch.

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