CHICAGO — Wisconsin’s basketball team spent the first half of the most important game of its season resembling Wisconsin’s baseball program.

In other words, like a team that hasn’t played or practiced for a game at any point in the past 30 years.

And though the 12th-seeded Badgers made a valiant effort to make No. 13-seed Ohio State sweat in the final minute despite once being in a 27-point hole in the opening round of the 2023 Big Ten Tournament, the jury has already reached its verdict.

Wisconsin doesn’t belong anywhere near the NCAA Tournament. To invite the Badgers would be an affront to the event itself.

It cannot be emphasized enough.

Wisconsin knew the stakes, and all it had to do was beat a very bad Ohio State team to put itself on the right side of the bubble. (As the first 30 minutes demonstrated, the Buckeyes are very talented. And as the last 10 minutes demonstrated, the Buckeyes are wildly flawed and dysfunctional.)

Rather than rising up to the moment, the Badgers played what may well have been the worst individual half of basketball any Big Ten team has all season.

That’s not hyperbole. Of the 680 halves of basketball played in the Big Ten this season, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything worse than what Wisconsin played in the first half Wednesday night.

The Badgers scored an embarrassing 18 points, which Ohio State doubled on the number. Wisconsin was 0-for-7 from 3-point range and 30% from the field — and somehow its defense was even worse.

Ohio State may as well been playing 5-on-none, shooting a preposterous 68% from the field. That for a team that entered the Tourney ranked 10th in the B1G in effective field goal percentage.

“I thought they were way more aggressive than we were,” said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard. “They put us on our heels in a lot of situations.”

Gard and the Badgers deserve credit for flipping that script in the second half.

Ohio State got ahead by as much as 27 points, and it felt like the margin would stay in that neighborhood. But somehow Wisconsin was able to cut the deficit to 61-57 with 52 seconds left.

“We had a little talk at the locker room at halftime,” said senior forward Tyler Wahl. “We knew what was at stake, and we knew what we had to do. We had to come out with a lot better energy, and we had to get some stops.”

But good effort with bad results is how you end up in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament. And that’s exactly where the Badgers will be heading.

No NCAA leg for Wisconsin to stand on

Wisconsin already entered this week an extraordinarily weak 78th in the NCAA NET rankings.

Usually, teams in that neighborhood don’t come anywhere close to earning an at-large bid. It’s 19 spots below Sam Houston State.

But the Badgers have some advantages a team like the Bearkats can’t dream of mustering thanks to playing in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is 6-7 against teams in Quad 1, including a crucial win over Marquette at Fiserv Forum.

But if the win over the Golden Eagles was keeping the Badgers afloat, the Buckeyes came along and harpooned the life raft.

To his credit, Gard didn’t do the pathetic politicking and groveling that many coaches in his position revert to. He sounds willing to accept whatever fate his team has in store.

“I’m not a bracketologist,” Gard said. “You can look around and find differing opinions.

“If we are [in], we’ll get ready to go and do that, and if we’re not, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to put ourselves in position. So résumé comparison and all that stuff — we wanted to come in here and try to win this thing. That was the goal that we talked about. Then you end up wherever you are after that.

“So I said to this group, hopefully we have more basketball to play. We’ll find out in due time. Like I said, the intent and what we talked about was trying to win here today and move on tomorrow and see if we can stack 5 together.

“Whatever that leads to down the road, we live with it.”

In Wisconsin’s case, that road leads to the NIT. And the Badgers have only themselves to blame.