Examining Some Warning Signs for Wisconsin’s DefensePosted by KTrahan on November 28th, 2012
Defense has always been a hallmark of Wisconsin’s formula for success. By keeping scores low and turnovers to a minimum, the Badgers are able to win games year after year. But this season, Bo Ryan’s team has struggled to defend other top teams. The problem isn’t turnovers or a lack of offense; rather, as BTN.com’s Big Ten Geeks writes, the Badgers have struggled with defensive rebounding and fouling too much. Wisconsin has done well against opponents it physically out-matches — the Badgers defeated Southeastern Louisiana, Cornell and Presbyterian by an average of 39 points each — but the team has struggled against opponents that can earn easy second-chance points. Wisconsin was out-rebounded by 18 against Florida and two against Creighton, while Florida got to the free throw line six more times than the Badgers, and Creighton got there 10 more times. Florida and Creighton are both very good teams, so losses in those games aren’t terrible for the Badgers’ postseason resume, but their defensive rebounding and fouling issues could lead to more trouble down the road.
No matter how Wisconsin defends, though, the Badgers will continue to struggle if they give teams extra possessions and frequently puts them on the line. Losing to Top 25 teams this early in the season may not matter all that much, but if this becomes a pattern, it could spell trouble for the Badgers down the road. We all know how tough the Big Ten is this year, so Wisconsin won’t have as many chances to beat up on weaker teams once it gets into league play in January. The Badgers must use the rest of the non-conference slate to prepare for the coming uptick in competition, starting with consecutive games against Virginia and California, then later, a game against Marquette. That should give us a better understanding of where this Wisconsin team is headed.
Part of the problem just isn’t fixable, though — the Badgers don’t have a lot of size on the roster. There are a some good forwards, but center Jared Berggren is just 6’10”, which is short for Big Ten standards. The Badgers’ leading rebounder is in fact guard Ben Brust, so the forwards must step up and provide assistance on the glass. Berggren and guard/forward Ryan Evans both average around seven rebounds per contest, but Berggren especially needs to increase his average to limit the opponents’ opportunities for putbacks. Freshman Sam Dekker has done well so far, but also as a 6’7″ forward, he must improve his physicality and grab more than 2.5 rebounds per outing to justify his time on the court. While Josh Gasser would not have been a great help rebounding-wise, the Badgers certainly also miss his leadership presence on the court. He won’t be back this season after injuring his knee in preseason workouts.
The staple of Bo Ryan teams is that they are able to wear down good offensive teams by making them take bad shots late in the shot clock. Ryan’s system is meant for low-scoring games, but teams this season are getting easy shots and second-chance points, which forces the Badgers to play in less comfortable high-scoring games. In those games, Wisconsin can’t run its normal system, which is part of the reason for its losses to good competition. In order to play within Ryan’s system, the Badgers must learn to stop giving up easy putbacks, and that starts in the paint. Berggren is the most likely candidate to improve down low, but since he is not exactly a beast inside, Wisconsin’s rebounding needs to become more of a team effort. If the Badgers can improve their rebounding totals and improve their defense in the paint, they should have no problem finding enough points to go dancing in March. However, if the warning signs we’ve seen so far persist into the Big Ten slate, and if Wisconsin continues to struggle on the boards and foul at a higher-than-usual rate, the Badgers could miss out on an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time under Bo Ryan’s direction.