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Strong profile aside, is No. 16 Wisconsin a national title contender?

Frank Kaminsky, Gabriel Olaseni

AP Photo


Three weeks ago, on Saturday, February 1st, we were all ready to write off No. 16 Wisconsin.

The Badgers had lost to Ohio State in the Kohl Center, their fifth loss in six games and their third-straight defeat at home, something that simply never happens.

They were overrated. Their record was boosted by the fact that they had won a bunch of games early in the season against good-but-not-great teams, some of whom were dealing with injuries at the time.

Fast forward to today, Saturday the 22nd. After a 79-74 win over No. 15 Iowa, the Badgers have now won five straight games, which includes a two-point win over Michigan State and, in the past six days, road victories against both Michigan and Iowa.

Just like that, the Badgers are back.

And with one of the strongest overall profiles in the country, don’t be surprised to see Bo Ryan’s club with a a top three seed come Selection Sunday.

Is this Wisconsin team an actual national title contender? Well, I’m not sure. There have been a number of things that have factored into this recent resurgence, not the least of which is Frank Kaminsky rediscovering the Frank the Tank form that allowed him to put up 43 points on 19 shots earlier this season. He had 21 points and seven boards in the win over Iowa, following up a dominating, 25-point, 11-rebound effort against Michigan. In the last four games -- wins over MSU, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa -- Kaminsky is averaging 18.3 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 27-for-44 (61.4%) from the floor.

He’s been dominant.

But it’s not just Kaminsky. Sam Dekker is a stud. Nigel Hayes has made himself an obvious pick for every national media outlet’s Breakout Players list next fall. Even Bronson Koenig is making his presence known, finishing with 12 very important points for the Badgers on Saturday.

This team is balanced, they execute as well as anyone offensively, they shoot very well from three and they make big shots.

But their issue was never how well they can score. It’s whether or not they can get stops.

They’ve improved on the defensive end of the floor, there’s no doubt about that. But in three of their last four games entering Saturday, they allowed more than a point-per-possession. Iowa scored 74 points in 64 possession, or 1.156 PPP.

The reason Wisconsin won this game was Iowa’s inability to get stops when they went man-to-man, both in the first half and on the Wisconsin’s game-winning possession. And while they might be getting more stops now than a month ago, that doesn’t necessarily make the Badgers a good defensive team.

You have to win six games to win a national title, the last three or four of which are legitimate Final Four-caliber basketball teams. Can the Badgers do that while avoiding the kind of performance they had against Northwestern?