Weekend Homework: Badgers need defense

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
10:30
AM ET
The Wisconsin bus was making its way to the airport after losing to Minnesota when the gate came down right on the front bumper.

The Badgers were stalled, stuck and now going to be late getting back to Madison.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan considered having the players walk across the tarmac to the plane, but the bitter cold made the decision for him. He wasn't cruel.

The moral for Ryan late Wednesday night into Thursday morning was that not everything is going well right now but things are hardly bleak.

The Badgers won 16 in a row before a Big Ten losing streak extended to three in Minneapolis. Purdue is up next Saturday, a team that the Badgers were miles ahead of two weeks ago in perception, ranking and playing progress. But the Boilermakers host the Badgers sporting an identical 3-3 Big Ten record.

"That's why I never got real excited about 16 wins," Ryan said. "In the conference, there are so many things that get erased. Everyone was saying we're the oldest team in the world. We're not. We're pretty young."

Purdue will be ready for Wisconsin after losing an overtime game at Northwestern, a matchup that the Boilermakers had multiple chances to win. The Boilermakers have been a gritty bunch, mimicking Matt Painter's charge.

Ryan looked for one area that has become a concern for him during the losing streak -- front-court defense.

"There are reads we have to make defensively," Ryan said. "That's where we're behind."

Ryan says he fully expects Purdue will get after them defensively, which means the Badgers will have to be even more mindful of their possessions.

"Defensively we've got to have guys step up more," Ryan said. "They know it. It's no secret. I'm not going to lambaste the players. It can be corrected collectively."

The Badgers must get more from the bench, too. Winning on the road at Purdue will only happen if there is some depth and variety of scoring. Ryan says he needs more than Nigel Hayes contributing in any significant manner.

"We don't have another guy who is giving us scoring [other than Hayes] off the bench," Ryan said. "We usually have two. We don't have that second scorer off the bench."

So did the 16-game win streak mask issues? The Badgers legitimately had quality wins over Florida at home, at Virginia and over Saint Louis in Mexico. Wisconsin held on for dear life to beat Iowa. But the magic has been lost in road losses at Indiana and Minnesota and at home against Michigan.

The Badgers don't have to go to Michigan State. But that might not matter in the Big Ten title chase if they don't win a game like Saturday's in West Lafayette.

"If you play 18 games and could pick and choose and move them around, you could win 10 straight games," Ryan said. "But you could also lose eight straight. The schedule always plays out."

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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