Tweeted it yesterday and now it's all I can think about. Yes, we lost to Miami and yes, we collapsed at Maryland and yes, we lost to freaking Missouri. But beat Wisconsin tomorrow and we can put this thing right back on the tracks while also accomplishing so many other things.
What other things? A list:
- First off, the last time we beat the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team was January 2nd, 2011. Since Dee and Augie graduated, we're 4-22 against Wisconsin. It's all so stupid and dumb and stupid and it has to end. It can end tomorrow night.
- In the NET rankings (the thing that replaced RPI), Wisconsin is currently #26. This is an opportunity for a legitimate, resume-building road victory.
- We aren't going to have many opportunities for road wins. Road games after this one: Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, and Ohio State. In the NET rankings, only Purdue and Northwestern are ranked below us. Northwestern is probably going to be the only road game where we're favored. Yes, winning at Rutgers will probably be just as difficult as winning at Wisconsin. My point: we gotta start winning some of these.
- We can be above .500 in the Big Ten after five games for the first time since 2012. That's not exactly the season to shoot for (we started 4-1 in the Big Ten in 2012 and then lost 11 of the next 13), but with so many 2-3, 1-4, and 0-5 starts of late (0-5 start to the Big Ten both last year and the year before), the chance to be 3-2 with home games against Rutgers and Northwestern up next could be huge for momentum. If you want to turn around a season where you lost all three non-conference games that mattered, push out to something like a 5-2 conference start.
- This is the only basketball game against Wisconsin this year (they don't come to Champaign), which means that if we win, we hold complete and total bragging rights over the Badgers. We'd be able to say "beat them in football, beat them in basketball". The next matchup is on Halloween, so we'd go past 365 days without losing to Wisconsin. That would feel nice.
All of that is right there for the taking. And this is a Wisconsin team that has losses to St. Mary's, Richmond, New Mexico, NC State, and Rutgers. They're not in any way invincible like Wisconsin teams of the past. Right now KenPom projects them as an 18-13 basketball team. When Wisconsin is limping along like that, we need to go into Madison and break this crazy losing streak, right?
I feel like I've written this post a dozen times before. For both sports. "This is it - win this one and we can open some doors". And then it never happens. An entire decade goes by and we never open the door.
Well, here's another chance. And I should note that this chance comes right at my "2.5 years and you'll know about the basketball coach" point. With at least one BTT game, we will play 32 games this year before the postseason. This Wisconsin game tomorrow is game number 16. I should probably back up and explain this for people who don't know what I'm talking about.
Back when Beckman and Groce took over the same year, I wrote a post about how it takes longer to know what you'll have in a football coach than it does with a basketball coach. At a school like Illinois (historically awful at football and awesome at basketball), I proposed that the number was doubled. We had a bottom-10 football program, and with a bottom-10 program, you probably need five full years. We also had (what I believed to be at the time) a top-12 basketball program, and with that kind of program, really, you'll know in about 2.5 years. See where the coach stands in January of his third year (what does the third recruiting class look like, what's the trajectory of the current team, etc.).
I've stood by that on the football side. You won't really know until a coach has his first full recruiting class reach their senior seasons. That's why 2020 is everything for Lovie. This will be the year where we learn how high he can build a program. Is the high point another 6-6 season or is it something greater?
On the basketball side, last time, I didn't hold myself to my own statement. You held me to the statement, but I pointed to #reasons. "This team has three starters injured so we don't really know yet" and "can you really blame Groce for what Snider and Alexander did on Signing Day?". It wasn't until the start of John Groce's final season (in New York City at the preseason NIT in 2016, specifically) that I realized that we did know all we needed to know in January of 2015 - I just didn't want to admit it yet.
So this time, I'm holding to it. The all-important third recruiting class is impressive, with Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo possibly becoming a best-backcourt-in-the-Big-Ten kind of thing. But the product on the court - specifically, the losses to Miami and Missouri - still leave many question marks. Yes, last year we totaled 12 wins and this year we could get to that number this year by Saturday, but still, this season has only been a C+. Need a B or an A.
And man, is this road game at Wisconsin the perfect time to do it. What a boost to the season grade this could provide. We'll probably need at least two road wins in the Big Ten to get to the Tournament, and tomorrow is such a great chance to get the first one.
Can we pull it off?
Please tell me we can pull it off.