Brent Musberger said it first, and everyone else on the planet has repeated it by now: this Sunday's matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State will still be a #1 versus #1 affair, since the polls don't come out till Monday. But I can say with relative confidence that the team that we saw playing the Michigan State Spartans last night has a long way to go before they can be considered the top team in the country.
First, let's look at the consequences of this loss. Obviously it gave UW a second conference loss, which means that Ohio State now has sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. It most likely got the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament, which is a bad thing since they're obviously a dangerous squad and they'll have a low seed. They might cause some chaos in those March brackets. And finally, it reduced the Badgers' claim for a #1 seed in the Big Dance (although I think it would take another loss to cost them completely).
So, why did the Badgers lose last night? There were plenty of reasons, some of which were under their control and others that were not. The spark that ignited the Spartans was Drew Neitzel, who kept the Spartans in the game during the first ten minutes by scoring 13 of Michigan State's first 15 points and who nailed clutch shots throughout the second half to keep the Badgers at bay. That's one of those things you can't control; a guy is going to get a certain number of open looks every game, and if he converts on ten of the seventeen shots that he tries, you simply can't stop that.
But one hot hand is not sufficient to derail the Badgers. And the Neitzel situation was most certainly not the biggest reason for the loss. The two things that absolutely killed the Badgers was their inability to get inside due to a pesky Spartan defense, and their propensity for taking stupid shots. Down the stretch, the typical Badger possession looked something like this:
* Get the ball
* Pass it around the perimeter until the shot clock get to about 8
* Fire off an errant triple
* Watch the Spartans get the rebound because all the Badgers are busy watching from beyond the arc
Mix in a couple uncharacteristic Alando Tucker travels for variety, and voila: the perfect recipe for a road loss to a tenacious team.
The inability to penetrate combined with the frantic three-point shooting kept the Badgers off the boards and forced them into coinflip situations; either come away with three big points, or surrender the ball after one field goal attempt.
Kammron Taylor didn't make a shot all night, which didn't help matters, but Marcus Landry came up huge. It looked like he was ready to will the team to victory, but the team wasn't ready to follow. And that's too bad.
The Ohio State game was a must-win before; now it's a really really really must-win. The Big Ten regular season title WILL be won on the floor on Sunday.