Big Ten M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

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  1. For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
  2. Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
  3. Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
  4. That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
  5. Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
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Why Not Frank Kaminsky as Big Ten Player of the Year?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 25th, 2014

As the saying goes, “basketball is a game of runs.” This season’s Wisconsin team is a prime example of that notion. The Badgers started the season with 16 straight wins, including impressive victories over Florida and Virginia. Then they hit a midseason lull to lose five of six games, dropping their conference record to a middling 4-5 by the start of February. After winning its last five games, Wisconsin appears to have righted the ship. Through it all, it has been seven-foot junior Frank Kaminsky who has remained consistently effective during the ups and downs. Lately, he’s also added “clutch performer” to his resume. On Saturday, the junior big man scored 20 points at Iowa, including two key baskets to build a lead and some clutch free throws to seal the game away. Kaminsky has not only led his team back to a placement in the top three of the standings, he’s also leading the league in terms of overall efficiency.

Frank Kaminsky is the most efficient player in the league. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky is the most efficient player in the league. (Getty)

Back in November, fellow Big Ten microsite writer Brendan Brody wrote that Kaminsky could follow in the footsteps of former Badger Jared Berggren and other bigs in Bo Ryan’s system by taking a significant leap in production with his expanded role. Hopes were already high because of returning starters Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, and Sam Dekker; but Kaminsky, a three-star prospect who had provided spot duty for two seasons in Madison, was regarded as the unknown commodity in the starting lineup. He had shown some indications that he was capable of taking on a bigger role, but his capabilities were regarded as suitable for a “pick-and-pop” forward most typical of Wisconsin’s big men. With the departures of Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz from last year’s team, there was also significant concern that Kaminsky would not be a reliable rebounding presence on the blocks. He’s done nothing but blown all of these misconceptions out of the water, exhibiting a developed footwork skill set that has allowed him to score either directly under the basket or create a layup from 10 feet away. When Bo Ryan needs a bucket now, he instructs his players to get the ball to Kaminsky on the blocks.

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Watch Out: Wisconsin’s Offense is Clicking Again

Posted by Brian Buckey on February 25th, 2014

Wisconsin opened the season scoring 75 or more points in 10 of its first 16 games. The offense was clicking in ways it hadn’t in the past under Bo Ryan. After that 16-0 start, however, the offense hit a rough patch, failing to hit that mark in seven of its next eight games. In three big wins over the past 10 days, the Wisconsin offense appears to be back, scoring 78 points in a home win over Minnesota, 75 in a road win at Michigan and 79 over the weekend at Iowa. Going back a bit further, the Badgers had also put up 75 points against Illinois, making it four of the last five contests in which Wisconsin has reached the magic number. So what has gone right for the Badgers in recent five-game winning streak? The following are several key thoughts explaining the improvement in the Badgers’ offense:

Ben Brust and the Badgers seem to be firing on all cylinders at the right time. (Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Ben Brust and the Badgers seem to be firing on all cylinders at the right time. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

  1. Frank Kaminsky is back to scoring at a high rate. Before the recent two wins over Michigan and Minnesota, Kaminsky had logged four straight games with 10 or fewer points. He broke out with a dominant 25-point, 11-rebound performance at Michigan, and he also scored 17 points against Minnesota. Kaminsky has carried the team in the past two games, helping stretch the floor by scoring both from the inside and on the perimeter. Kaminsky actually did most of his damage from inside the three-point arc in the past two games, though, hitting 10-of-14 shots from two against Michigan, and adding one three-pointer. When he is aggressive and looking for his shot, Wisconsin’s offense is so much more efficient. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 20th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten may not have a freshman who is as heralded as the numerous national ones like Tyler Ennis, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and the others. Still, there have been plenty of impact rookies to talk about, including a likely top 10 pick should Indiana’s Noah Vonleh leave for the draft. The Big Ten Geeks took a look at the conference’s Freshman of the Year race, essentially narrowing it down to the trio of Vonleh, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. It’s hard to argue against those three being the best, although Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn has been impressive too. Overall, the Geeks give Vonleh the slight edge and I would agree with them unless Michigan wins the Big Ten title. If the Wolverines finish the season on top, it would be tough to argue against Walton given how much he has turned up his play in conference action. He is the biggest reason this team has responded so well to loss of Mitch McGary and overcome Nik Stauskas’ recent scoring slide.
  2. Everyone knows letdown games occur, but it is extremely rare to have a player candidly admit as much. Michigan State‘s Matt Costello did just that when discussing the Spartans’ recent struggles against Nebraska, and his candor is refreshing. Michigan State losing at home to a Cornhuskers team that had been dismal on the road was certainly a shocker, and the fact that Costello (and maybe in turn the rest of the team) didn’t respect Nebraska appears to have been a contributing factor. Outsiders can look to injuries as well, but this team has overcome injuries all season long. A lackadaisical attitude was the bigger factor and we’ll see if they learned to not overlook an opponent when the Spartans go to Mackey Arena to face Purdue tonight.
  3. Michigan has had plenty of players raise their games in Big Ten play, and recently it has been Caris Levert who has stepped up as the Wolverines’ scoring leader over the last five games. He has proven to have no problem attacking the basket to create his own shot while drawing the foul or stepping outside to shoot the three. Michigan will need to continue getting solid contributions from Levert with its massive intrastate rivalry game against Michigan State coming up this weekend. Also of note in this article — John Beilein discusses the Olympics and the sport of curling. Who doesn’t like curling?
  4. The postponement of the Iowa vs. Indiana game following a beam falling on Tuesday night was certainly a scary situation. It is very fortunate that it happened when no one was in the arena, but with the Indiana women at home last night, it appears the Hoosiers will still be able to host the Hawkeyes later this season. The question is when will it happen and how the team will respond? Tom Crean says it is just a matter of adjusting to changing circumstances and being ready to play no matter what. The two schools will still have another day to schedule the game before the Big Ten is obligated to step in and schedules it for them.
  5. Wisconsin has plenty of players that contribute every game, but this is news it certainly did not want to see. Senior guard Ben Brust left practice yesterday after he was hit from behind and knocked down. The injury appears to be to his back and he is currently listed as day-to-day. The Badgers have likely clinched an NCAA Tournament berth barring a complete collapse, but with a game at Iowa coming that could have big seeding implications, this injury is certainly not good news. Brust isn’t just a good scoring threat for the Badgers, but he is also one of the best leaders on Bo Ryan’s team. Not having him in a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the weekend could be a daunting task for the Badgers.
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Big Ten M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 17th, 2014

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  1. Wisconsin’s Ben Brust hit one of the most memorable shots in Big Ten history last season against Wisconsin. This memory has come into the light once again as the Wolverines head to Madison this Saturday. When asked about his shot, the senior sharp-shooter talked about how he really is only focused on the present. Brust stated that, “I just want to stay focused on the task at hand. Because I know that after these three months, I’ll have the rest of my life to think about how special of a play it was.” With the way the Badgers are playing, there could be many more memorable games for Brust to look back upon if things break right for the team in the next three months.
  2. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish makes an interesting argument in talking about how the B1G is really more of a basketball league than a football league. This flies in the face of the perceptions of many at the schools in the conference, which despite a recent lack of success on the gridiron, still cling to the notion that the league is a dominant football conference. It can’t be denied that the conference has arguably been the best basketball league for quite some time now. In the era of one-and-dones dotting the landscape, teams in the Big Ten seem to have found a happy medium where they still bring in talent that sticks around for several years. While some may scoff because of the lack of national championships, the B1G once again has the most depth top-to-bottom in the country on almost a yearly basis.
  3. After an 0-4 start in league play, Nebraska coach Tim Miles has decided to shake things up a little bit. This means more playing time for the forgotten David Rivers. Rivers started a little more than half of his team’s games last season, but has hardly played at all over the last 10 contests due to an injury and ineffectiveness. Miles hopes that Rivers, who leads the team in steals at 1.4 per game, will bring more defensive intensity for the Huskers.
  4. With their win over Ohio State, Iowa has climbed in both the national rankings and in the amount of people taking them seriously. Interest in the program is the highest it has been in a while, and the Hawkeyes will have sell-out crowds for the remainder of their home games. This could prove to be crucial, as Iowa will play games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the next couple of weeks. Protecting your home court is a must every season in a league as deep as the Big Ten, so the support of the crowd will be more than welcomed by Iowa players as they battle the heavyweights in games that could determine who wins the conference.
  5. AJ Hammons gets most of the hype and publicity whenever anyone discusses Purdue, but whether the guards are hitting outside shots can be just as important for the team if it wants to play in the postseason. Ronnie Johnson and Kendall Stephens knocked down some huge triples in their win against Illinois, which ultimately led to the Boilermakers coming away with the win. Terone and Ronnie Johnson also hit 6-of-6 free throws in the final minute, despite both of them shooting poorly from the line for most of their careers. Hammons has been coming along in his own right, but steady guard play might decide how good of a season Purdue has.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2014

RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) gives his weekly observations on the game in his column, Otskey’s Observations. 

A Cause for Concern or Just a Speed Bump for Wisconsin?

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don't expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don’t expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Wisconsin’s 75-72 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night was surprising in many ways. For one, it marked the first time since the 1995-96 season that the Badgers have given up at least 70 points in three consecutive games (h/t @nickfasuloSBN). It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort from a historically good defensive team under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Wisconsin could never seem to get a stop when it needed one and allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game. Coming into the contest, Bo Ryan was 14-3 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean had never beaten Ryan while at Indiana and the Hoosiers had dropped 12 consecutive games to the Badgers dating back to 2007. In a strange twist of fates, perhaps Ryan’s best team ever fell to Crean’s least talented team in the last three seasons. While Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson did yeoman’s work for Wisconsin, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust had off nights. Dekker, Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaled only 10 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Brust was cold all night from the three-point line, but tried to adjust, attempting a season-high seven shots from inside the arc, most of those curling to the basket off screens. It was a strange night in Bloomington and something just didn’t feel right. I am inclined to think this is just a bump in the road for Wisconsin and I would expect a much more focused defensive performance at home against Michigan this coming Saturday.

Creighton Ascending in the Polls Despite Grant Gibbs’ Injury

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Examining Volume Shooters in the Big Ten: Why Jarrod Uthoff Should Shoot More

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 14th, 2013

Who among college basketball fans hasn’t been frustrated by a volume shooter on their team? We all know the volume shooter, right? That player who hasn’t seen a shot he didn’t like. He starts off the game, seemingly, unable to buy a bucket. But then, all of a sudden, he gets hot and makes everything, maybe even the game-winning shot. Wash, rinse, repeat. The emotional roller coaster a volume shooter puts his fans through, while frustrating, is another example of the up-and-down nature of college basketball that diehards love about the sport. But how many players are really “volume” shooters? To clarify, how many players become more efficient the more often they shoot the ball? According to the numbers, the answer is not many, and they’re likely not the players you’d expect.

Jarrod Uthoff is the type of player who gets more accurate the more shots he puts up.

Jarrod Uthoff is the type of player who gets more accurate the more shots he puts up.

For this post, we did a quick analysis to determine the Big Ten’s volume shooters. To start, we only looked at players averaging double-figure points per game and measured player efficiency by using true shooting percentage to take into account the full spectrum of scoring opportunities: three-pointers, two-point field goals, and free throws. We used “true” shots (the denominator of true shooting percentage) as the measure of quantity or “shots taken.” Next, we counted each game as one observation and plotted each player’s game efficiency and quantity of shots on a graph. Lastly, we ran a simple regression analysis for all players to determine which ones had the most positive relationship between efficiency and the number of shots taken. From this analysis, we found that Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff (10.3 PPG), Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (12.0 PPG), and Frank Kaminsky (14.7 PPG) were the three players with the most positive relationship between efficiency and shots taken. To illustrate this, the graph below maps each player’s regression line with one another. As a comparison, we included the regression lines of the Big Ten’s leading scorers: Michigan’s Nik Stauskas (18.9 PPG) and Penn State’s D.J. Newbill (18.5 PPG). Keep in mind that a regression line maps a player’s expected efficiency given the number of shots he takes in a game. Click on the graph for a larger view.

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Big Ten M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 12th, 2013

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  1. It’s been a question all year when discussing Ohio State. Everyone knows how strong the Buckeyes’ defense is, but are they be able to score enough points on the other end to become a Final Four team? Replacing DeShaun Thomas was a huge question mark coming into the year, but through the first quarter of the season, at least, LaQuinton Ross has matched his production. Last night Ross scored only nine points in the team’s 86-48 win over Bryant, but as Ross’ recent production has been on an uptick lately, so too has his team’s scoring capability and potential ceiling. If he has in fact turned a corner and is rapidly becoming the team’s offensive leader, then Thad Matta’s team is well on its way to becoming a legitimate Final Four contender.
  2. Indiana cruised in its most recent win against Oakland, but a potential key player off the bench is starting to emerge. Freshman Luke Fischer has finally healed from a torn labrum in his left shoulder and is no longer wearing a brace. Thanks to being healthy over the past two games, Fischer has notched season highs in minutes and scored 12 points, nearly half of his season total of 25. Granted, these games were blowout wins for the Hoosiers against inferior competition, but Fischer came into this season with a lot of unrealized potential. Some thought Fischer could start at the five for Indiana next to Noah Vonleh, and he is just now starting to show why in the past two games. If he emerges and gives Indiana another strong piece inside he could help alleviate some pressure on Vonleh and give the Hoosiers some quality post minutes off the bench.
  3. It’s impossible to really know at such an early point, but with the good start Minnesota has enjoyed and if Richard Pitino quickly builds the Golden Gophers program up in the next two or three years, would he be likely to stay in Minneapolis or leave for a more traditional, high-powered program? According to his father and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, “he could die at this program.” The elder Pitino was in town this week to watch his son’s team win on Tuesday night and gave some interesting insights into his son’s career choice. The father had urged him to stay on board as an assistant at Louisville and follow him there as the next head coach in several years, but the son wanted to blaze his own trail. That has to be a good sign for Minnesota fans because if young Pitino is successful he could potentially stay at the school and become a long-term fixture that leads the program routinely to the top of the Big Ten.
  4. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of Penn State as more than a cellar-dweller or a team that could pull off an upset or two in Big Ten play. After a loss to a mediocre Bucknell team in its second game of the season, the Nittany Lions have now won six of eight and pushed their record to 8-3 following last night’s 68-59 win over Duquesne in a neutral site game. This opponent was another middling team, but Penn State’s only other losses were to a very talented Pittsburgh team and a three-point loss to a solid Ole Miss squad. Last night’s win was just another that exhibits that this team could challenge for a top-half finish in the B1G. Most impressively may be Penn State giving up 24 free throws to the Dukes yet still winning the game. It’s also good that Tim Frazier only scored 11 points but had 13 assists, giving credence to the notion that role players are stepping up around the Nittany Lions’ talented backcourt duo. If Penn State wins its next game against 7-1 Princeton, everyone will have to start putting this team on its dark horse radar.
  5. Another game, another high-scorer for Wisconsin. The Badgers have proven to be a very well-balanced and talented squad this season, as Ben Brust led the team in its 78-52 win over UW-Milwaukee last night. Every time out it seems like someone different is taking control of the team, with Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson or Josh Gasser trading positions. Brust is just another dimension to the effectiveness of the Badgers as it has gotten off to its best start at 11-0 since 1993-94. This team has shown it can do just about anything in Bo Ryan’s motion offense, with every player versatile enough to hit shots outside or play inside. With five strong scorers in its starting lineup, this could be the year Wisconsin goes from a consistently good team to a Final Four contender. It also helps that it has shown it can play different styles this season, already notching wins in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and more than 100 points. That’s quite the spectrum of game styles to win them all.
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Wisconsin Guards Provide Stability With Rebounding

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 16th, 2013

Extrapolating a trend based on a small sample size is usually not recommended in statistics. However, after just three games, we can highlight a few interesting anomalies among the Big Ten teams. Going into tonight’s game against Green Bay, Wisconsin’s rebounding is a topic worth evaluating after two wins over St.John’s and Florida. The Badgers were not outrebounded in either game, but surprisingly, it was their guards who were the dominant rebounders on both nights — Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust combined for 15 boards against St. John’s and 18 boards against Florida. After the departure of Jared Berggren, it was unclear if Frank Kaminsky could be a legitimate replacement on the glass, but if the guards combine to average 15 boards per game, they may just be fine without a true big man inside.

Josh Gasser is one of the best rebounding guards in the nation.

Josh Gasser is one of the best rebounding guards in the nation.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Brust and Jackson are good rebounders based off last season’s results, but Gasser’s return certainly helps Ryan’s defensive unit. Because of his rebounding abilities, Ryan can play a three-guard lineup with Sam Dekker at the power forward position. Dekker is a “stretch-four,” and is not a rebounding force of nature by any means, but he can light it up offensively with the best of them (averaging 16 PPG so far this season). With the guards hitting the defensive glass, Dekker doesn’t need to worry about rebounding and can just focus on carrying the bulk of the offensive load. Another area where he can benefit from the guards’ rebounding abilities is in transition. He can take off as soon as Gasser or Brust hit the boards, which should spark more fast break opportunities for the Badgers. The third guard can take the outlet pass and start running, which will help the Badgers pick up a few easy baskets. This style would also help Frank Kaminsky, who runs the floor very well for a big man. It is unclear if this trend will continue and if Wisconsin’s tempo will actually increase over the long haul, but so far this season Bo Ryan’s group is using a couple more possessions per game than last year.

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Wisconsin Looks Much More Perimeter Heavy This Season

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 8th, 2013

It’s not often that fast and Wisconsin basketball are used in the same sentence. Since Bo Ryan has been the head coach in Madison, the Badgers have been known for playing big men who execute a deliberate style on the offensive end coupled with strong, take-no-prisoners halfcourt defense. During the past five seasons, Wisconsin’s scoring average hasn’t landed in the top half of the Big Ten, and last season it sat at eighth after averaging 66.2 points a game. The Badgers have also ranked in the bottom 25 Division I teams for possessions per game during four of the past five seasons. Well, get ready for a new look Wisconsin squad. With the graduation of several interior players and the return of Josh Gasser from an ACL injury, the Badgers are likely to use three- and perhaps even four-guard lineups a lot more this season.

Ben Brust is one of many guards that Wisconsin will utilize this season.(Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Ben Brust is one of many guards that Wisconsin will utilize this season.(Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Exactly how often Wisconsin may use a perimeter-heavy lineup isn’t certain, but based on its current roster, the Badgers will be doing it early and often. With the graduations of Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, the majority of the team’s inside presence is gone outside of Sam Dekker. Those three averaged a total of more than 26 points and 19 rebounds a game for the team, with the best returning inside player other than Dekker being Frank Kaminsky, who only averaged 10 minutes per game last season. This makes interior play a huge question mark for this team, but Ryan certainly has plenty of known commodities on the perimeter. As he said at Wisconsin’s media day, “You think 12 guards is a lot?. It just panned out this way. It keeps a very high competitive level in the backcourt and all our drills and all our possessions.”

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Who’s the Best 3-Point Shooter in the Big Ten? An Analytical Look…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 5th, 2013

The title of this post asks a pretty straightforward question: Who is the best shooter from deep in the Big Ten? Seems simple enough. But how do you define the “best” three-point shooter? Is it the player who makes the most threes? Is it the player who makes the highest percentage of his threes? Is it the shooting specialist who contributes the most to his team’s wins?  The best approach, of course, is to appreciate all three characteristics. So let’s do exactly that and look into the numbers.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year. (AP)

First, we need to create a list of players in the Big Ten who meet certain criteria. For the purpose of this analysis, we will only include returning Big Ten players and use last season’s statistics for measurement. While we recognize that freshmen can be highly effective from long range right out of the gate — look no further than Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas last year — we have no set methodology for projecting freshman output from their high school performance. Therefore, in the interest of convenience, no freshmen are included in this list. The next criterion is that players must have attempted at least 100 3-pointers last season and shot at least 30 percent from deep. This filters out players with a high percentage from a small sample size of 3-point attempts and gunners who put up too many bricks to be considered top-tier shooters.

The table below displays our initial list of candidates given those criteria, and their pertinent statistics from the 2012-13 season (from basketball-reference.com).

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20 Questions: Does Sam Dekker Make Wisconsin a Final Four Contender?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2013

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Semantics matter. And semantics makes this one a no-brainer, in so many ways. No, Sam Dekker does not make Wisconsin a Final Four contender. Now don’t get me wrong, Wisconsin may well indeed be a Final Four contender (a question I’ll get to later), but if so, it is not solely due to Dekker. First and foremost, basketball is a team sport that requires five competent players on the court playing well together. And even in the best of cases, one superstar coupled with four, well, schmucks, does not make for a Final Four team, no matter how good that superstar is. And at a place like Wisconsin with a coach like Bo Ryan, this goes double. Under Ryan’s swing offense, the Badgers are going to run sound fundamental offensive basketball, coupled with hard-nosed stingy defense on the other end of the court, and they are going to take what the opponent gives them. Sometimes that will mean Dekker will be able to have big nights, but on other occasions, Wisconsin is going to need big contributions elsewhere. Even if Dekker has the best year in the history of Wisconsin basketball, the Badgers will still need some help.

Sam Dekker Leading Wisconsin To A Final Four? There Are Plenty Of Reasons To Be Skeptical (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker Leading Wisconsin To A Final Four? There Are Plenty Of Reasons To Be Skeptical. (USA Today Sports)

The second thought about this question, even taking away the nitpicking first paragraph of my answer is this: What has Sam Dekker done so far to deserve anything approaching a “yes” answer here? I like Dekker’s game and I know damn well that one of the things that makes Ryan such a successful coach is his ability to get players to improve from year to year. So I fully expect him to significantly better his 9.6 point and 3.4 rebound per game averages from his freshman campaign. And clearly with Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren all gone from the Wisconsin front line, there is going to plenty of room for Dekker to pile up minutes and crank up the production. But the fact that those three seniors have graduated means this team is less likely to compete for a Final Four this season than last, a year in which, I might remind you, the Badgers got knocked out in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament. Even if Dekker goes out and averages something like the 19.4 points per game he dropped in Wisconsin’s summer trip to Canada (a nightly average which would be the best year out of a Wisconsin player since Alando Tucker won the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2007), he’s still going to need plenty of scoring help from the returning backcourt of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson, along with Josh Gasser, who returns from a season lost to an ACL tear. And frankly, while we can expect Dekker to improve, can we really expect him as a sophomore to be as good or better than guys like Tucker or Jon Leuer were as seniors? I think not.

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