When Wisconsin announced that Frank Kaminsky would not be available for Sunday night’s game at Rutgers because of a concussion, few would have suspected that it could result in the No. 4 Badgers losing their first game in conference play. Yet in one of the most shocking outcomes of the season so far, the Scarlet Knights upended coach Bo Ryan's team, 67-62.
Consider that Rutgers entered the day with a 10-6 record and 2-2 mark in conference play, having taken losses to the likes of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member Saint Peter’s and Northeast Conference foe St. Francis. The Scarlet Knights were subpar defensively and even worse on the other end of the floor: they ranked 321st nationally in two-point field goal percentage, 315th in three-point percentage and 332nd nationally in effective field goal percentage.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, had established itself as the best team in one of the best conferences in the country (the Big Ten) by beating everyone on its nonconference schedule besides the then-No. 4 team in the country (Duke) on the heels of a Final Four appearance. The Badgers won all those games with Kaminsky on the court, but even without him one would have thought Wisconsin could handle a road game against one of the worst power conference squads in the country.
Instead, the Badgers couldn’t overcome not having the national player of the year candidate in their lineup. With Kaminsky shelved, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes picked up the scoring slack. They combined to shoot 12-of-27 from the floor for 30 points and added 16 rebounds, and sophomore guard Bronson Koenig chipped in 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. All told, the Badgers scored roughly 1.11 points per possession.
Wisconsin was less effective on the other end of the floor. The Badgers allowed Rutgers to shoot 54.3 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range for 1.20 ppp. Forward Kadeem Jack and guard Myles Mack led the way for the Scarlet Knights, teaming for 41 points on 14-of-29 shooting. The duo provided a pair of key makes in crunch time: Jack flew drove Dekker for a bucket to stretch the lead to seven at the 3:16 mark, and Mack converted a tough layup in the final minute.
It didn’t help Wisconsin that point guard Traevon Jackson was forced to leave the game in the second half because of a foot injury -- the Badgers led 35-23 at halftime (with Jackson scoring four points). Yet it was still jarring to see Wisconsin failing to get stops in crunch time against a team that ranks 294th nationally in kenpom's adjusted offensive efficiency. Depleted lineup or not, the Badgers whiffed in stunning fashion.
Rutgers should be commended for taking advantage of Kaminsky’s absence and delivering its best offensive performance of the season to score the first win over a top-five team in program history, though it remains to be seen whether this will amount to anything of lasting value for the Scarlet knights. Their ugly statistical profile is indicative of their status as a conference bottomfeeder, and they lost to Northwestern at home less than two weeks ago.
There will be an urge to ascribe an asterisk next to this loss for Wisconsin because Kaminsky didn’t play and Jackson got injured. Still, this is one of the more shocking defeats any team has suffered in nonconference play so far this season. All the Badgers can hope is that it was a negative blip rather than the start of a prolonged downturn.