Final Four Storylines: Wisconsin Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 1st, 2015


The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. We profiled Kentucky yesterday. Today: Wisconsin.

Sam Dekker's Ascent Assured Wisconsin of Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

Sam Dekker’s Ascent Assured Wisconsin of Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

The Badgers are back. Just one year after head coach Bo Ryan snapped his Final Four drought, the Badgers are once again two wins away from the program’s first National Championship since 1941. What has always been impressive about Ryan’s teams is the consistency with which they finish among the Big Ten’s top echelon, but the last two campaigns have elevated the notion of sustained success to another level. Wisconsin is not yet a top-five basketball program, but Ryan has found a group of players that have both the talent and the know-how to effectively run his system. This year’s senior-laden team is even better than last year’s group, and it has a real chance to do something special with Kentucky waiting in Indianapolis.

An historically good offense. Wisconsin is dangerous because of its offense. Coming into this season, no team in the KenPom era (since 2002) had finished with an adjusted offensive efficiency rating higher than 124.1 (2013-14 Michigan). Barring something astonishing occurring this weekend, however, the Badgers will shatter that record. Wisconsin’s current mark of 127.5 ORtg is significantly higher than Notre Dame’s 123.1, the second-best in college basketball. To put that into perspective, that differential of 4.4 adjusted points per 100 possessions between #1 Wisconsin and #2 Notre Dame is roughly equivalent to the difference between the offenses of #65 Louisville and #148 Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Badgers don’t put up eye-popping point totals because they also run the second-slowest offense in Division I basketball (a concept Kenny Smith apparently doesn’t understand), but that’s one of the reasons they are in fact so good. Their determination to get excellent shots on each possession down-court make that number possible. Of course, so does an ability to record a second half effective field goal percentage of 105.3, as the Badgers did last Saturday against Arizona. But it all starts with Ryan’s philosophy and the way his players understand and fit into it.

Frank Kaminsky vs. Kentucky’s bigs. Kaminsky put together a National Player of the Year-worthy season in Madison, but it’s possible that his most important performance of the year came in the Elite Eight against Arizona. Given the stakes and an opponent that possessed one of the best front lines in college basketball, Kaminsky’s notable early aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor was critical. His 20 shot attempts (making nine) represented the highest total he has taken this season and his 12 free throw attempts were his second-highest total of the year. In Wisconsin’s matchups against Oregon and North Carolina, Kaminsky was considerably more passive in combining for 24 shots over the two games. But against Arizona, he realized he had an opposing center he could exploit and he went to the well often. The question now becomes how he’ll approach the battle with a Kentucky frontcourt that is taller than that of all but one NBA team. Will he attack it head on or will he defer to Wisconsin’s other weapons who may have better individual matchups?

Keep Wisconsin weird… You’ve probably seen the Vines or the YouTube videos or heard the stories. You’ve probably heard about the stenographer, about Nigel Hayes’ press conference slip, about Kaminsky’s dance moves. Now we have video games, “suck-offs” and Kaminsky feigning fury and knocking a PowerAde bottle off a table during a press conference. Wisconsin basketball and Bo Ryan can sometimes give off a stern, even robotic feel during its games, but it’s clear that, having experienced the media circus that is the deeper rounds of the NCAA Tournament last year, this Badgers team is feeling free to let loose. It probably won’t have any effect on their performance this Saturday, but it’s still cool to see.

Henry Bushnell (39 Posts)

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