Big Ten is no place for an unbeaten record
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Five minutes had passed during Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan's postgame press conference when a reporter reminded him that no undefeated Big Ten teams remained in conference play.
Ryan, of course, didn't need a refresher. Not after what he saw on the court earlier in the night.
"Oh, rub it in," Ryan said after Wisconsin lost, 70-66, Saturday against Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"Hang on to your hat," he continued. "It's going to be this kind of a year."
Anybody who thought a Big Ten team would go undefeated in the conference doesn't know much about college basketball. But perhaps the depth of the league is even stronger than some surmised, if that is possible, because all it took was five games before every team lost at least once.
Here's a short summary to jog your memory:
Michigan State, suddenly in first place by a half-game at 5-1, lost its first conference game at Minnesota, which lost to Indiana, which lost to Wisconsin.
Michigan (tied for second with Wisconsin at 4-1) lost to Ohio State, which lost to Illinois, which is just 1-4 in the Big Ten.
And now Wisconsin has lost to Iowa, which lost to Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana, which lost to Wisconsin.
Got all that?
On Saturday, the Badgers became the final Big Ten team to fall by playing as poor of a first half as they had all season. Iowa led by as many as 20 points in the first half and took a 34-18 edge into halftime. Wisconsin shot 6 for 26 from the field (23.1 percent), including 1 of 11 from 3-point range.
The Badgers also uncharacteristically tallied more turnovers in the first half (eight) than made field goals (six). And the deficit was so big that they needed 28 minutes of game time simply to cut the deficit back to single digits in the second half.
"You're putting yourself in a terrible position to try to win a game," Badgers center Jared Berggren said. "We did pretty much everything wrong in the first half. It's just too much to overcome in the second."
Certainly, no one expected Wisconsin to run the table. But the Badgers' first-half performance was particularly disappointing for players considering the way they played on Tuesday in beating No. 2 Indiana, 64-59, on the road.
That victory marked Wisconsin's first road win against a top-five team since 1980 and demonstrated — temporarily, at least — that the Badgers were a major player in the Big Ten race. The team that showed up in Iowa the first 20 minutes resembled little of the one that outhustled Indiana.
"I don't think it was that we weren't mentally ready or anything like that," Berggren said. "We all moved past the last game. We were all focused and ready to go tonight. We just didn't perform when we got out on the court. The turnovers put us in bad positions and let them get some momentum going. Things got out of hand a little bit."
It was a night in which Wisconsin (13-5, 4-1) could ill-afford a dreadful start given the emotion already coursing through the arena.
Iowa honored former player Chris Street, who died in a car accident exactly 20 years ago to the day. Hawkeyes players wore white T-shirts in memory of Street during warm-ups, and the shirts were scattered throughout the announced crowd of 15,400. A video tribute of Street was shown at halftime, and his parents were honored at mid-court to a rousing ovation.
Earlier in the week, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery showed his players highlights of Street so they would better understand his significance to the program and the importance of playing well to honor his memory.
The Hawkeyes (13-5, 2-3) didn't disappoint.
"Iowa's as good as any team that we've played," Ryan said. "Where's all the talk about how good Iowa was earlier? And then all of a sudden we come in here after a win against Indiana, and it's like, I'm kind of looking at the two teams and thinking, ‘Iowa's pretty good.'
"I don't think our guys got overly excited about the win at Indiana to the point where they didn't prepare. I just think these are good teams in the Big Ten. We played one of them tonight."
If there was a bright spot for Wisconsin, it came from point guard George Marshall, who scored a career-high 20 points — all in the second half — in just 15 minutes of action. Marshall torched Iowa's guards off the dribble, and when they played off him anticipating a drive, he pulled up for 3-pointers, making 3 of 4 long balls.
Marshall buried a 3 to trim Wisconsin's deficit to 66-63 with 24 seconds left, but the Badgers edged no closer and did not pull off a miraculous triumph.
"This season just overall, I haven't really been using everything that I have," Marshall said. "Second half, I just put it all on the line and just attacked. Those were the results. That's pretty much all I can say about that. I just played aggressive in that second half, and that's what happened."
Wisconsin won't need to wait long for an opportunity to take over first place once again. Michigan State just happens to be venturing to the Kohl Center on Tuesday night.
In other words, the wild ride that is the Big Ten is only beginning.
"Everybody kind of realizes every game is going to be a battle," Ryan said. "You just can't lose perspective of that in this league. If you do, you're really in trouble."
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