Wisconsin has conquered the improbable this season battling circumstances that were sure to overwhelm the team.
The Badgers beheaded Indiana for the eleventh straight time on Tuesday night, extending their winning streak in Assembly Hall to five and setting the record for most consecutive wins by one opponent in the hallowed venue. No less impressive, the win bumps Bo Ryan’s team into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten as the league’s lone remaining unbeaten.
Not bad for a team picked to finish fifth in the conference even before point guard Josh Gasser suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
Be it the pair of inconceivable winning streaks—both alive and well—or the program’s unlikely status atop the Big Ten standings through two weeks, Wisconsin’s season to date has defied any kind of rhyme or reason. The Badgers (13-4, 4-0 Big Ten) have won seven straight since their road loss to in-state rival Marquette and upset two Top 15 opponents in the span of four days.
Wisconsin limited national player of the year candidate Cody Zeller to 1-of-7 shooting in the second half—this after Zeller canned all eight of his shots in the first half—despite playing the entire period without reserve big man Frank Kaminsky, the team’s best interior defender. Go figure.
As implausible, the Badgers won the battle of their weakest position on the floor: point guard. Ben Brust, the combo guard transplant called on for spot point guard duty, scored nine points—all huge baskets—while sophomore Traevon Jackson, for whom the program has high hopes, added 11. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana’s freshman counterpart, struggled from the floor himself, notching nine points on 2-of-8 shooting and dishing out just one assist.
The 2012-13 campaign has been one of stark unpredictability for Bo Ryan, which seems right up the sage coach’s alley. The Badgers already own a home loss to an unranked non-conference opponent (Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge), an occurrence about as rare as the Badgers pushing the tempo. Two months later, the very same group that couldn’t contain Darion Atkins has smothered Brandon Paul and a quartet of Indiana stars (Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladiop, Christian Watford and Will Sheehey) in successive games.
Wisconsin began the season behind the eight ball, but a streak of counterintuitive success now has the Badgers firmly in contention for a Big Ten championship, let alone a tournament at-large bid. Back in October, the short-term outlook of Wisconsin’s broken down, highly-flawed, injury-gutted roster rendered the thought of a Big Ten championship in Madison preposterous.
That very implausibility in the context of the Badgers season is why you can’t count out these Badgers.