Wisconsin in free fall, and the Big Ten is a bizarre mess heading into March Madness

Wisconsin has picked a bad time to be bad.

The slumping Badgers were dropped at home by Iowa on Thursday night 59-57, resulting in the team’s third straight loss and its fifth in the past six games. Wisconsin, ranked seventh in the polls only two weeks ago, has dropped five straight to unranked teams. Very un-Wisconsin-like. 

Entering Thursday’s game, Iowa was 2-17 all time against ranked Wisconsin teams. 

Thanks to Jordan Bohannon, Iowa still has distant dreams of making the NCAA Tournament. His 3-pointer on a broken play following a botched rebound attempt by the Badgers gave Iowa the lead with less than 10 seconds remaining. Bronson Koenig took a long 2-pointer that fell short, Iowa grabbed the carom, and the game was over just like that. The Hawkeyes outscored Wisconsin 7-0 down the stretch. 

It was brutal for Greg Gard’s team. Former UW coach Bo Ryan must have been chewing on his shirt watching the final few sequences. Here’s Bohannon’s winner. 

The bitter irony for Wisconsin fans is that Bohannon’s two older brothers, both of whom were in attendance at this game, played at Wisconsin. 

Iowa scored 14 of the game’s final 17 points. It was a weird and frustrating game for a Wisconsin team that was thought to be the best in the Big Ten as recently as two weeks ago.

Now Wisconsin finishes its regular-season slate with a home game against a Minnesota team that not only projects better in the bracket, but also hasn’t lost since January. What has happened in Madison? 

To think, this could be even worse. Maybe we should have all seen this coming when Wisconsin needed some minor miracles to make it past Rutgers in late January. Three of the Badgers’ wins this season have required overtime. From 21-3 to 22-8, Wisconsin is skidding and the Big Ten is taking an image hit.

Or is it?

There’s a quagmire that’s growing here, because the Big Ten lacks an elite team, but at the same time it could unthinkably pop eight of its 14 member schools into this year’s tournament field. So is this a good year for the Big Ten? Seems an impossible question to answer.

The story of Northwestern’s push to make the NCAA tourney is the best thing to come out of the league this season, but aside from that and the Caleb Swanigan campaign for National Player of the Year, there’s not a whole lot to sell here nationally. Minnesota has had a nice turnaround, but if your league is being defined in good portion by Minnesota and Northwestern, you’re having a down year. Michigan State, still a bubble team, just lost to Illinois

Maryland, once 20-2, has lost four of its last seven.  

A month ago, Wisconsin had Ethan Happ right on Swanigan’s heels for league player of the year. On Thursday, Happ’s unreliability at the foul line was a contributing factor to UW losing the game. 

Iowa now has hope of making the tournament, thanks to its bevy of top-50 wins. Michigan is fairly anonymous but well in the field at this point. Purdue, which has won the regular-season title outright, looks solid, but no one here qualifies to make the short list of national title contenders. 

If you’re trying to predict an outcome in the Big Ten tournament, good luck. But I have to say, this is still fun, right? The conference having this gooey center of unpredictability is going to almost certainly give us an entertaining crapshoot in Washington, D.C. next week. As for seeding and selection, there’s still so much to sort out here. We love March because of the tournament, but I also love it for the way teams get shifted and flipped in the final 10 days prior. 

The Big Ten is a kaleidoscope of capriciousness. It’s going to have a litany of teams between the 7 and 12 lines and maybe almost nobody better than a 5. It doesn’t make for a great year for the league, but it does create a memorable one. If eight from this union do find their way into the bracket, that will set a conference record. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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