In the thick of the Big Ten title race a week ago, Wisconsin now would need some help to just have a chance at first-round bye in the conference tournament.
The No. 22 Badgers try to avoid losing a season-high third straight game and becoming the second consecutive ranked team to fall at last-place Penn State on Sunday in a potential Big Ten tournament first-round preview.
Within a game of first place entering last weekend, Wisconsin (20-10, 11-6) had won seven of nine and was coming off three straight victories over No. 14 Ohio State, Northwestern and Nebraska by an average of 27.0 points. Then a sub-.500 Purdue team came to Madison last Sunday and handed the Badgers a stunning 69-56 defeat. Wisconsin followed by shooting a season-low 29.4 percent in Thursday's 58-43 loss at No. 10 Michigan State that ended its chances of earning a piece of the crown.
"We have a lot to learn and a lot to improve on come tournament time," freshman forward Sam Dekker said after Wisconsin's lowest-scoring game of the season. "The last three weeks, we thought we were invincible. Now that we've taken two `Ls' things aren't so easy for us, but that's life in the Big Ten."
The Badgers have dropped to fifth in the league standings, and a loss Sunday would result in them finishing in that position - which would be the worst in Bo Ryan's 11 seasons as coach. That also would mean they'd have to play Thursday in the opening round of the conference tournament against the 12th-seeded Nittany Lions (10-19, 2-15).
Even if Wisconsin wins this game, it would need a loss Sunday from at least one of the three second-place teams - Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State - to move up to fourth or higher and receive a first-round bye.
"You don't look at (falling out of title contention) as missed opportunity so much now, it's through the whole season," Ryan said. "It's always accumulation of play. You've still got another regular season game, that's all I think about."
The Badgers shot 50.0 percent and averaged 72.3 points during their three-game win streak before totaling 99 points on 34.9 percent shooting in the last two games.
Ryan's team is unlikely to take this game for granted even though Penn State will finish last in the league for a second straight season and fell 60-51 at Wisconsin on Jan. 3. The Nittany Lions have won two of three games after losing 14 in a row.
Penn State ended a 19-game skid against league opponents with a stunning 84-78 home victory over then-No. 4 Michigan on Feb. 27. The Nittany Lions took a step back by shooting 27.1 percent in a 73-44 loss at Minnesota three days later, but rebounded with a 66-59 win at Northwestern on Thursday.
Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill each had 18 points while Sasa Borovnjak added 15 with 10 rebounds as Penn State snapped a 19-game road slide.
"I'm happy for the kids because after losing to Minnesota the way we did," coach Patrick Chambers said, "they never gave up; they just wanted to get better."
Marshall, who scored a game-high 19 in the first meeting with Wisconsin, has averaged 18.3 points over his past four games while going 15 of 30 from 3-point range.
Ben Brust was one of three Badgers with a team-high 13 points against the Nittany Lions, who have lost three straight and 16 of 18 in the series. Brust averaged 14.7 points during Wisconsin's 6-1 February before totaling 18 points on 5-of-17 shooting in two games this month.
Badgers leading scorer Jared Berggren (11.4 ppg), held to 23 points over the past three games, is 3 for 24 from 3-point range since the start of February.
The Associated Press News Service
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