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Badgers men's basketball team eager to start postseason with clean slate
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Badgers men's basketball team eager to start postseason with clean slate

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INDIANAPOLIS — About 24 hours after the final blow had been delivered in a disappointing regular season for University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team, senior point guard D’Mitrik Trice logged on to Twitter and sent out a simple message to his 8,000-plus followers.

0-0.

That mantra had been discussed in the locker room at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena following a 77-73 loss to the No. 5 Hawkeyes on Sunday, a defeat that dropped the Badgers to 16-11 overall and 10-10 in Big Ten Conference play.

A year ago, UW won its final eight regular-season games to finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten. The Badgers were about to enter the Big Ten tournament as the No. 1 seed when the rug got pulled out from under them, with that event and the NCAA tournament getting canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, UW enters the Big Ten tournament as a No. 6 seed. It will play either Penn State or Nebraska on Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

There’s no way to sugar coat the fact the Badgers finished .500 in the Big Ten after returning almost their entire rotation and beginning the season as a title contender ranked No. 7 in the nation. They went 3-7 over the second half of Big Ten play, losing five of their final six games, and finally dropped out of the rankings this week.

That’s a lot for a senior-laden team to digest, but the Badgers would prefer to spit it out and grab a new plate. Hence, the 0-0 theme.

“We know that we’re starting over, we’re starting fresh and I think the guys are super excited to play the game again and be in this position that we didn’t get a chance to (be in) last year,” Trice said. “We’ve mentioned that multiple times that this is what we’ve been working for. We won a regular-season championship last year and we haven’t won one at the Big Ten tournament, so we’re looking forward to that and just continue to go out there and fight.”

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that the Badgers suddenly can flip a switch and become the team they thought they’d be. They finished 0-8 against the five teams that finished above them in the Big Ten standings and, in order to win the Big Ten tournament, UW likely would have to beat three of those teams on consecutive days.

Registering one signature win against a Big Ten opponent — say, against Iowa in a quarterfinal on Friday if the Badgers reach that point — would be a start.

Optimists might cling to the flashes of quality UW showed over the final week of the regular season, when it lost a pair of games on the road to ranked opponents. The Badgers were neck-and-neck with Purdue the entire way and, five days later, led Iowa by four points late in the game.

“I like where everybody’s head is at,” Trice said. “I think we’re trending in the right direction and the right time and I think the guys are really excited to continue to progress forward.

“We know it’s win-or-go-home, so we’ve got to bring our A-game for 40 minutes each and every game.”

An offense that has struggled showed signs of life last week. The second half against Iowa was UW’s best 20 minutes on that side of the court in Big Ten play, with the Badgers producing a robust 1.52 points per possession.

The ball going through the hoop certainly helped — UW shot 53.3% overall, went 7 of 13 from 3-point range and made all eight of its free throw attempts — but the lead-up to those results was better as well.

UW coach Greg Gard thought his team cut with more authority, set better screens and moved the ball well.

It wasn’t enough. The Badgers played well enough offensively to beat Purdue and Iowa but had too many defensive lapses.

“We just have a few plays here and there that change the outcome of a game. I think we’re right there and the coaches have been saying it and I think the players believe it as well,” Trice said. “If we really start to click at both ends of the floor I think we’re going to be a really dangerous team here in March.”

Gard believes that as well. The thing that encourages him the most is his team has been practicing well of late.

“You’ve still got to do it (in games) and obviously we’ve got to improve results in terms of outcomes,” Gard said. “But the steps they’ve taken over the last 10 days, two weeks, have been very positive and I’m proud of their effort and their focus. They’ve stayed locked in and dialed in and come back every day with the bounce in their step and excited to work and get better.”

Senior guard Brad Davison said last week the Badgers have two options: Dwell on the past, or focus on the future.

They’re choosing the latter — a world in which they’re 0-0, just like everyone else.

“We can’t change the past, we can’t change what we didn’t do this year,” Davison said. “But at the beginning of the year we made multiple goals and most of those goals are still in front of us.”


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