Less than a month ago, the Wisconsin basketball team looked poised to make a run for a Big Ten title once again as it flirted with a top 10 ranking and turned heads with its stellar shooting.How quickly things can change.Ranked as high as No. 7 in the coaches poll and sitting comfortably at No. 11 just after Christmas, the Badgers then dropped three of their first four games in Big Ten play. Three games in a row – including two losses at home. For Wisconsin fans spoiled by Bo Ryan’s unexpectedly strong conference finishes, a 1-3 start sounded like nothing more than a terrifying dream.While it was a rocky run for the Badgers, much of that underperforming falls on the strength of the Big Ten, which currently sits atop college basketball as the nation’s premier conference. With five teams from the nation’s oldest conference ranked in the latest polls – and Wisconsin sitting just outside – the Big Ten’s talent in 2012 has Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany drooling. The conference standings remain a crowded battle for the top spot, as five teams boast no more than five losses, as of Jan. 21.There’s no excuse for a home court loss to Iowa, other than atrocious shooting – 10.7 percent from beyond the arc, seriously? – but losses to Michigan State and Michigan are a product of a tougher-than-usual Big Ten. This year’s rendition of the swing offense has plenty of talent but lacks experience, an issue that has shown through early in the conference season.Star guard Jordan Taylor has yet to find his shooting rhythm, and the Badgers are still seeking a dominant post presence. Senior forward Jared Berggren has certainly stepped his game up, as he now averages double figures, but is simply not the consistent post presence Wisconsin desperately needs. Though Ben Brust has saved UW with his explosive scoring ability several times this season, the Badgers lack a serious No. 2 scorer behind Taylor.Just don’t expect things to get any easier soon – the conference is simply loaded with deep, talented teams.A Jared Sullinger-powered Ohio State is the conference favorite, and rightfully so, but Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team has proven they’re up for the challenge after working through one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country. After an 18-point beatdown of the Badgers, Michigan solidified its place as a conference title contender with a nail-biting victory over the Spartans.And after pulling off upsets over Ohio State and Kentucky this year, Indiana has proven the team is regaining its spot as a national basketball powerhouse. Tom Crean is finally getting the pieces to fall together and, with the impressive post play of freshman Cody Zeller, the Hoosiers will be a tough matchup for Wisconsin.According to Cindy Boren of The Washington Post, the Big Ten could have nine of its 12 teams dancing come March. That’s right, nine teams, or three-quarters of the conference, in case you can’t handle the math.Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East fans will likely dismiss the Big Ten’s dominance in 2012 on grounds that the teams lack explosive scorers and high-flying offenses that are commonplace on the east coast. It’s true that Big Ten play is often dominated by defensive battles with final scores in the 50s or 60s (Indiana is the only Big Ten squad to rank in the top 25 nationally in scoring offense), but that shouldn’t disqualify it from being the country’s best conference top to bottom.Although probably its best showing in recent memory, the strength of the Big Ten alone doesn’t justify an 1-3 start to conference play. When the Badgers climbed the polls early in the year, they were shooting the lights out. As Taylor fought off a slump, players like Mike Bruesewitz, Brust and at times Ryan Evans came out of the shadows to power Wisconsin’s offense.The post game was still lacking, but when UW was nailing half its shots from long-range, it wasn’t much of an issue. Such a slump can only be expected from a team that relies on jump shots and three-pointers, and all signs are pointing to a quick turnaround for Ryan’s squad.With three straight victories over Big Ten opponents, including a statement road win over Purdue, the NCAA tournament is well within reach of Taylor & Co. Despite the disappointing start, the Badgers still exude a don’t-hurt-yourself Bo Ryan-coached team. Wisconsin leads the country in turnovers per game – nine – and holds its competition to just 35.1 percent shooting from the field, tops in the nation. The fundamentals are there – the shooting isn’t.Wisconsin fans have been spoiled under Ryan for his tremendous success on the hardwood, a mark proven last year when the Badgers finished the season undefeated in Madison. But those numbers can’t be maintained when the Big Ten is this good.UW has faced defeat in front of a home crowd three times this season and – maybe I’m a pessimist – but they will likely pick up another rare loss at the Kohl Center before the year is out. Perhaps it will pay off and the heightened competition in the regular season will prepare Wisconsin for a deep run in the NCAA tourney.It may keep another Big Ten title banner from the rafters of the Kohl Center, but this ultimately benefits the conference. I can see Delany’s wide-mouthed grin from here.Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Think the Badgers are still underperforming in a talent-loaded Big Ten? Or is the oldest athletic conference overrated? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @imccue.