Big Ten M5: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 4th, 2015

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  1. Riding a string of three straight losses, the wheels have predictably started to fall off at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights got even worse news when head coach Eddie Jordan announced forward Deshawn Freeman will miss the next two weeks with a sore knee. It’s a tough blow for a team facing upcoming games against Seton Hall, George Washington and mid-major darling Monmouth in the next 17 days. The junior leads Rutgers in scoring (13.1 PPG) and field goal percentage (54.4 percent) while ranking second in rebounding (5.3 RPG).
  2. While the Big Ten tied or won its seventh straight Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday, Indiana’s abhorrent lack of defense was one of the Challenge’s biggest storylines. In a 94-74 loss to Duke, the Hoosiers allowed 1.52 points per possession while three Duke players posted an offensive rating of 160.0 or higher, per KenPom.com. The Blue Devils didn’t merely take advantage of a handful of bad matchups; they throttled a team that didn’t display much effort on defense all night. Since the start of last season, the Hoosiers have allowed at least 1.2 points per possession six separate times, and also allowed a terrible Alcorn State team to score 70 points against them on Monday.
  3. Perhaps the biggest win of the Challenge was Wisconsin’s 66-58 road victory at Syracuse. The Badgers’ offense isn’t nearly as efficient or high-scoring as it was the last two seasons, but freshman Ethan Happ’s 18-point, 15-rebound night is exactly what Bo Ryan’s team needs: a legitimate third scoring option to take some of the pressure off of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Depth has been an issue as Wisconsin reboots its system this season, so Happ needs more performances like he had in the Carrier Dome. If Brevin Pritzl is ruled out for the season, the bench could be even shorter. He’s only played in just four minutes this season due to complications from a broken foot suffered in August and should learn his fate on Friday after undergoing additional tests.
  4. Despite its issues in the frontcourt, Michigan has shot the three-pointer well again this season. The Wolverines shoot 43.0 percent from three as a team, but Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Duncan Robinson’s shooting numbers are the most impressive part. Robinson and Walton are each shooting over 60 percent from deep and have combined for 34 made threes on 55 attempts (62 percent). In Robinson’s last three games, he has made 14-of-20 three-point attempts. That makes LeVert’s own impressive 52 percent mark from beyond the arc seem rather insignificant. While these numbers won’t last all season, Michigan has proven it is capable of shooting its way to victory on any given night.
  5. We detailed Iowa’s depth on Wednesday, but Jarrod Uthoff’s fantastic start to the year shouldn’t be lost in the Hawkeyes’ deeper-than-expected offense. Uthoff ranks third in scoring in the Big Ten with 17.7 PPG, is second in blocked shots with 2.6 per game and is one of three players in the conference posting averages of at least 17 points and six rebounds per game (Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Ohio State’s Marc Loving are the others). His 8.1 percent turnover rate also ranks fifth in the conference. Don’t sleep on Uthoff — he’s playing like a shoo-in for First Team All-Big Ten.
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Wisconsin’s Offensive Flaws Becoming Evident in Early Season

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 22nd, 2015

Wisconsin’s loss of star veterans Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser has been well-documented. The trio accounted for 54 percent of the Badgers’ scoring last season and were essential cogs in the program’s consecutive Final Four trips. Wisconsin opened the season at No. 17 in the Associated Press preseason poll, and the primary reason for that ranking was faith in the coaching abilities of Bo Ryan – over a long and successful career, betting against the venerable head coach has proven to be a mistake. But only four games into this season, Wisconsin is just 2-2 after a loss to Georgetown on Friday night and appears to be no better than a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team. Here’s a closer look at a few of their issues.

Nigel Hayes is playing well, but Wisconsin's offense has seen some early-season struggles (Getty).

Nigel Hayes is playing well, but Wisconsin’s offense has seen some early-season struggles (Getty).

  1. Fewer impact shooters. Last season, four of the five Wisconsin players who attempted at least 100 threes on the year shot at least 38 percent from deep. This season, Wisconsin’s top four players in three-point attempts are shooting a collective 35 percent from behind the arc, and only five players on the roster have made a three-pointer. Yes, this represents a small sample size, but it’s fair to already state that these Badgers cannot shoot the ball as well as last year’s edition. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are likely to shoot well from deep, but Hayes isn’t a high-volume shooter — he takes 3.3 three-pointers per game, up from 2.5 a season ago. Elsewhere, center Vitto Brown isn’t nearly the mid-range or three-point shooter that Kaminsky was. In Friday’s loss to Georgetown, Brown missed both of his wide-open jumpers — one from the elbow after Hayes drove and kicked the ball back to him; another after setting a ball screen and receiving the pass. Hayes is having a fine season so far – 16.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.0 APG – and Wisconsin is limiting its turnovers and fouls. But through the first week of the season, it doesn’t appear that Ryan has the personnel required to effectively run the offense that won a Big Ten title last season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 11.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 20th, 2015

By the second weekend of the season, most power conference teams have moved past playing cupcakes from one-bid leagues — although some of those cupcakes ultimately got the last laugh — and are now moving up in competition. Stiffer tests begin in earnest for two Big Ten squads tonight, as Wisconsin and Michigan take part in marquee match-ups against Big East opponents and wo more B1G teams face challenging mid-majors on Saturday. Here are the four games to watch involving Big Ten teams this weekend.

Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig scored a combined 29 points in last year's thriller against Georgetown (Daivd Banks-USA Today Sports).

Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig scored a combined 29 points in last year’s thriller against Georgetown (Photo: David Banks, USA Today Sports).

  1. Georgetown vs. Wisconsin (Friday, 5:00 PM ET, ESPN). Oddly enough, this game isn’t part of the slate of Gavitt Tipoff Games but instead a part of the 2K Classic event taking place in Madison Square Garden over the weekend. It’s also a rematch of a classic from last season, when the Hoyas — behind a 29-point effort from D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera — nearly upset the second-ranked Badgers in the Battle 4 Atlantis. These teams look to be more evenly matched this year, with Smith-Rivera perhaps looking to finish what he started a year ago in the Bahamas. Both squads have already suffered unexpected home losses to teams they have no business losing to (Wisconsin to Western Illinois; Georgetown to Radford), so the loser here will find itself in an early hole in its pursuit of a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Xavier at Michigan (Friday, 9:00 PM ET, BTN).  The Wolverines will host the Musketeers tonight in the final game of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Caris Levert‘s team has looked resurgent in its first two outings, beating its two opponents by a combined 54 points in an effort to erase memories of an injury-plagued and disappointing 2014-15 season. Michigan will face its first real test when Trevon Bluiett’s Musketeers invade the Crisler Center. It’ll be a mismatch of styles — the Wolverines are a quintessential jump-shooting team while Xavier thrives off attacks of the rim and getting to the free throw line —  so whichever team sets the tone early will earn a distinct advantage. Read the rest of this entry »
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten First Team

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 13th, 2015

After seven months of waiting, college basketball is back. We’ve already released our all-Big Ten third team, second team and individual award picks earlier this week. As we head into the opening night of hoops, our microsite staff picked who we believe are the Big Ten’s best five players, listed below in no particular order.

Melo Trimble is the favorite, but any of these other four guys could also easily nab Big Ten Player of the Year.

Melo Trimble is the favorite, but any of these other four guys could also easily nab Big Ten Player of the Year.

  • Melo Trimble (SO, Guard, Maryland). Trimble, our preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, was the best player on a Maryland team that won 14 conference games in its first year in the league. His 16.2 points per game ranked fifth in conference play, but his efficiency was just as impressive, becoming one of only two players to average at least 15 PPG in fewer than 10 field goal attempts per game. Trimble is the best player on the conference’s best team and should be even better in his second collegiate season.
  • Yogi Ferrell (SR, Guard, Indiana). Ferrell and Trimble are likely to battle for the Big Ten scoring title all season long, and the diminutive Hoosier just might win it. He’s a natural scorer (17.0 PPG since 2013-14) who is elite in just about every offensive category. If Ferrell didn’t have such a strong supporting cast, he’d probably run away with the scoring title with ease. He’s also an outstanding facilitator who assists on 26.7 percent of his offensive possessions and rarely turns the ball over (14.2 percent of possessions).

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

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  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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Meet the Badgers: Who Will Step in for Departed Legends?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2015

Here’s what we think we know about the Wisconsin Badgers: We know that Nigel Hayes improved tremendously as a sophomore after a solid freshman campaign. The big forward developed a more well-rounded offensive game and became one of the better interior players in the Big Ten. We also know that point guard Bronson Koenig proved more than capable of running the show when starter Traveon Jackson missed 19 midseason games due to injury. Those two are poised to become two of the best players in the league. We also know that this season might be Bo Ryan’s last on the sidelines in Madison, although, then again, it might not be. In summation, we really don’t know all that much beyond those few things in the wake of Wisconsin’s historic run to the National Championship game. The questions about Ryan’s status will be answered in due time, but who specifically will be the replacements for all the players that are gone?

Nigel Hayes needs some help in the form of newcomers for Wisconsin to pick up where they left off in 2014-15 (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs some help in the form of newcomers for Wisconsin to pick up where it left off in 2014-15. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traveon Jackson, and Duje Dukan. Four seniors and a junior who played a rather large part in the Badgers’ 66-12 overall record during the last two seasons. That means there’s a whole lot of playing time and shots to be had. Ethan Happ may get the first crack at attempting to replace Kaminsky’s spot in the lineup. The redshirt freshman has used the education he learned on the scout team to become a much more polished player. In the team’s recent scrimmage against Wisconsin River-Falls, Happ notched a double-double in 19 minutes, going 7-of-9 from the field. He could become the top option in the post with Kaminsky now playing in Charlotte. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Top Tier (#7 – #1)

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2015

We continue our Big Ten microsite predictions and superlatives with the second half of our preseason standings. We presented our preseason standings with teams #14 – #8 on the microsite yesterday; today, we unveil the top half. These are the teams that we as a group believe will finish near or atop the league when all the dust settles and will result in the likely conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy!

It's Jarrod Uthoff's turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

It’s Jarrod Uthoff’s turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

  • 7. Iowa: With Aaron White now graduated, all eyes turn to senior Jarrod Uthoff to take the baton and lead the Hawkeyes to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament— something this program hasn’t accomplished since the early 1990s. With players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and an experienced backcourt to work with, Uthoff will have a supporting cast with enough talent to get it done.
  • 6. Michigan: The Wolverines are a talent-laden team with a number of players similar to Caris LeVert who fit perfectly into John Beilein’s prolific three-point offense. Both he and Derrick Walton were sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, which gave the rest of the young roster experience to draw from this year. Now fully healthy, Michigan is set up for a comeback campaign pushing toward the top of the Big Ten.

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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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Final Four Previews: Wisconsin/Duke Will Win If…

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2015

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Championship Monday is always bitter sweet for college basketball fans. On the one hand, it means the two best teams in the country will finally play for the ultimate crown and go down in the history books. On the other hand, it also means that the college basketball season is finally coming to an end. For this particular 2014-15 season, however, what an ending this is set to be. While the nation didn’t quite get the “dream” finals matchup, tonight’s contest is not a bad consolation prize by any means as arguably the best offensive basketball team in recent memory goes up against arguably the most traditional of traditional powers that the sport has ever seen. We’re just a couple hours away from tip-off, but in the meantime …

No shock here - Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight's National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

No shock here – Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight’s National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Wisconsin Will Win If

  • It continues to play like the greatest collegiate offense in recent history, which it most assuredly is. For the year, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 128.5, equivalent to 128 points per 100 offensive possessions against an average defense, the best by a rather significant margin. In the NCAA Tournament, with higher stakes and tougher opponents, the Badgers are still averaging 128 points per 100 offensive possessions, even after playing two of the season’s best three defenses in their past two games. While Duke’s is playing its best defensive basketball of the season (they’re allowing 87 points per 100 defensive possessions in the tournament), at this point doubting the effectiveness of the Wisconsin offense is questionable at best.
  • Frank Kaminsky gets the better of the Jahlil Okafor. The key matchup to watch, of course, will be Kaminsky vs. Okafor (the only two unanimous RTC All-American choices) although of course, it won’t always be a mano v. mano type of thing. However, it is a fascinating matchup. Okafor may be the best post-up big man since Tim Duncan, while Kaminsky’s ability to be equally effective inside or out gives him a great advantage. Much of Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on the ability of its talented big men to step away from the hoop, open up the floor and create opportunities for clean looks. Okafor is in no way foul prone, but if the relatively inexperienced freshman gets frustrated by Kaminsky’s veteran wiles, the Blue Devils could be behind the eight-ball. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Wisconsin 71, #1 Kentucky 64

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 4th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Down the stretch, Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin played like they were going to win. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Down the stretch, Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin played like they were going to win. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  1. 24 years later. It is hard to put games in a historical perspective in the moment, but this will rank up there with almost any of the great games in college basketball history. It is hard to believe, but we were in almost the same situation 24 years ago in the same city. Now this Kentucky team was not the defending champs (runner-up last year) and they were not the juggernaut that 1991 UNLV was, but we are here in Indianapolis with a #1 undefeated team losing to a team that it had beaten in the Final Four the year before. While most people were pointing towards Duke-Kentucky on Monday night as the place where Kentucky’s undefeated season might end, anybody who paid attention all season was aware of how big of a hurdle this would be. Much like the 1991 UNLV-Duke game this had some questionable calls, but this time the team on the wrong end of those calls ended up winning. It isn’t often that games like this live up to their hype (more on that later), but this one did and then some.
  2. Wisconsin showed its toughness tonight. Wisconsin played out of its mind tonight scoring 1.23 points per possession tonight against the best defense of the KenPom era in a performance that made us think that their second half performance against Arizona was not that much of an aberration, but it took more than that. When Josh Gasser found himself on the end of two bad calls–first a charbage call that negated a Bronson Koenig three with eight minutes left followed by a non-call after Trey Lyles slapped him in the face–we thought it might be a turning point where Kentucky would take control of the game. For a few minutes it appeared that they would as they took a 4-point lead before Sam Dekker made a couple of big plays–a lay-up followed by picking up a charge–that swung the momentum back in Wisconsin’s favor. When you have teams that are this evenly matched, you need to make big plays down the stretch. While Kentucky has found a way to win all season long, they misfired when it mattered down the stretch coming up with three straight airballs and shot clock violations. The result was history.
  3. What Kentucky did was incredible. It will be hard for Kentucky’s coaches, players, and fans to think about right now, but this was a great season for the Wildcats. What they did under the direction of Calipari was sacrifice their individual goals and glory for the greater good of their team. Their loss tonight is not a reflection of a failure on their part, but just the reality of the game and life–sometimes things don’t work out even when you plan things out perfectly. Kentucky was the best team in college basketball this season, but in one-game scenarios anything can happen. They were simply outplayed tonight. In all likelihood, we won’t see this group play together again since so many of them are projected to be first round picks, but we won’t forget them any time soon. You can argue about how “great” they actually were, but when they were firing on all cylinders they certainly were overwhelming. In the era of one-and-dones, this type of team (loaded with talent and with at least a little bit of experience) is probably the best we are going to get.

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Final Four Previews: Kentucky/Wisconsin Will Win If…

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on April 4th, 2015

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The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Kentucky Will Win If…

  • It controls the game defensively, does not allow Frank Kaminsky to get comfortable in the post, and is very opportunistic offensively. The Wildcats did not turn in a vintage defensive performance in their hard-fought 68-66 triumph over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. The Irish shot a respectable 46.4% from the field, collected 13 offensive rebounds, and had a 16-to-7 turnover ratio. Those numbers were quite different than the ones the opposition has routinely put up against Kentucky this season. Even more troubling for the Wildcats, mercurial Irish forward Zach Auguste had a standout game against the vaunted Kentucky frontline, finishing with 20 points (1o-of-13 FG) and nine rebounds.

    Willie Cauley-Stein's defense will be critical in Saturday's matchup. (AP)

    Willie Cauley-Stein’s defense will be critical in Saturday’s matchup. (AP)

  • Kentucky has to rededicate itself on the defensive end if it wants to best Wisconsin and advance to the title game. Much like Notre Dame, the Badgers have one of the best offenses in the country and they will definitely take advantage of defensive breakdowns. That vaunted frontline is going to need to be at its very best because Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky has the ability to completely take over a game in the post. Against a very large Arizona team in the Elite Eight, Kaminsky was able to get comfortable in the post all night, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Storylines: Wisconsin Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 1st, 2015

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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.

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