Stacey Revere/Getty Images
Wisconsin's meltdown left Zak Showalter (right) and the Badgers looking for answers.

Wisconsin showing it isn’t as good as we thought, NFL combine news and a huge hockey series

Zach Heilprin

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Today is Friday, March 3, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.


Falling flat

Maybe Wisconsin just isn’t very good.

That seems to be the only conclusion left to consider after the Badgers lost for the fifth time in their last six games, this one a heartbreaking 59-57 last-second loss to Iowa Thursday night. It was a game in which Wisconsin made just 5 of 14 attempts from the free-throw line, and a stunned Kohl Center crowd had to watch as Iowa erased a 9-point Badger lead with 3:46 to go.

But this performance is nothing new. It’s a pattern. And like the team, we’ve fallen into a pattern of trying to figure out why Wisconsin is struggling to find its footing as a once-promising season has turned disastrous down the stretch.

We’ve talked about the lack of shooters, the inability to hit from the charity stripe, and, at times, defensive lapses that boggle the mind. Yet we’ve refused to entertain the idea that this team may just not be the contender so many thought it would be early in the season. Maybe the un-Wisconsin-like collapse to Iowa is just another sign of that.

Sure, the Badgers started 21-3, but the lack of marquee wins was obvious and several of those victories less than artistic.

Expectations for this team were built last year when a 9-9 start turned into a 22-13 finish and a run to the Sweet 16. With the top 10 players returning this season — including All-Big Ten candidates in Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — Wisconsin started the year at No. 9 in the country. But was that too high? We were overlooking the obvious? We may have been.

Go back to the end of last season. Wisconsin lost its season finale to Purdue on the road, which wasn’t a huge surprise. But then the Badgers stunk up the joint in their first Big Ten Tournament game against Nebraska, a team that had a sub-.500 record.

They followed that with an even-uglier-then-it-sounds 47-43 win over Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and only two miraculous 3-point shots from Koenig in the final seconds allowed them to upset Xavier in the second round.

With those games in mind, it begs the question: How differently do we look at this team if Pitt manages to hit a few more shots or if Koenig didn’t have ice water in his veins at that moment? There’s no way Wisconsin enters the season in the top 10 and there wouldn’t have been talk of another trip to the Final Four. Everyone would still be up in arms over what’s transpired in recent weeks, but it would have a different feel to it than it does now.

So, here the Badgers sit, with just one game in the regular season remaining and their Big Ten title hopes gone. Four seniors will suit up for a final time against Minnesota on Sunday with Wisconsin struggling to find answers. While they’ll continue to work to do so, maybe it’s time for us to stop wondering what’s wrong with the Badgers and just admit that this is who they really are — a team with flaws that was never as good as many of us thought they were.

Badgers at the combine

Friday is when the on-field drills start at the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but Thursday had some intrigue for three of the six former Badgers taking part.

Here’s a look at how tackle Ryan Ramczyk and running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale spent their days.

Ramczyk

The one-year wonder for the Badgers is still recovering from hip surgery following the Cotton Bowl, but that didn’t stop him from showing what he could do on the bench press, putting up 25 reps of 225 pounds. While that was just 14th-best among offensive linemen, it was the best effort from a Wisconsin tackle since Gabe Carimi put up 29 reps in 2011.

Ramczyk told reporters he met with multiple teams, including his home-state Green Bay Packers, who seemingly don’t have a need for a tackle.

There were plenty of questions about his hip surgery and subsequent recovery. Though he likely won’t be able to do any on-field drills before the draft, Ramczyk believes he’s progressing nicely.

A few more tweets on Ramczyk:

Clement

The biggest story out of Thursday for Clement was the report from the Sporting News that coach Paul Chryst sent letters to all 32 teams vouching for the running back in an effort to head off any potential concerns about his attitude and effort during his time in Madison.

“Corey was great this year! He was terrific as a player, as a teammate, and as an individual,” Chryst wrote. “Corey cared more about this team than he did his future as an individual prospect in the NFL. He was unselfish, a diligent worker, and kept getting better and better as the year progressed. As a staff, we thought Corey was a big factor in the success we had as a team this year.

“I can highly recommend with confidence Corey Clement.”

Clement also had a solid day on the bench press, putting up 19 repetitions, which was 11th among running backs.

A few tweets on Clement:

Ogunbowale

Ogunbowale, the lesser-known of Wisconsin’s two running backs at the combine, hit the interview circuit on Thursday after managing a solid 14 reps on the bench.

On-field testing and drills for Ogunbowale and Clement were scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday, while Sojourn Shelton and the rest of the defensive backs are due to arrive on Friday for registration.

On the road

The Wisconsin hockey team will open the biggest series of its season tonight at Penn State sitting just three points behind Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten with only four games to go. But the last time the Badgers saw the Nittany Lions they got taken to the woodshed, getting outscored 11-5 as Penn State swept a two-game series.

“They played better than us that weekend. Hats off to their effort,” coach Tony Granato said this week. “We weren’t ready for them.”

That was just three weeks ago, but in that time Wisconsin has won three of four, including splitting with the Gophers last week.

“In the last two weeks we’ve been really solid,” Granato said. “We’ve competed. We’ve battled. We’ve put ourselves in a position from the physical part of the game to another level than we had against Penn State.

“I think we’re in a better place than we were when we played them a few weeks ago.”

And they need to be because the Badgers have a chance to do something the program hasn’t done since 2000 — win a conference title. That drought is a little surprising considering all the talent Wisconsin has produced over the years. While the Big Ten has just six teams, it would be a huge accomplishment for Granato to get it done in his first year.

Catching up