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Four Things We Know About … Wisconsin

April 4, 2014

(Note: This is the second in a series of posts on the Final Four teams of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship™. Today we examine the Wisconsin Badgers, the No. 2 seed from the West Region, with the next preview of Connecticut posting late tonight.)

 

While munching on some late night cheese, here are Four Things we know about the West Region Champion, Wisconsin:

1.) Wisconsin is Old School. I mean, really “Old School.” It starts with Head Coach Bo Ryan, of whom assistant coach Greg Gard claims “wouldn’t know how to run any apps on his phone”, and as one friend told me, is 66 “going on 181”. His basketball takes the “fun” out of “fundamental” – or maybe it puts the “mental” in it, I’m not entirely sure – and at times his teams look like B-reel from the production of the movie “Hoosiers.” His offense is called “The Swing”, and not because he likes to dance. Ryan developed his offense in the 1980s while head coach at Division III University of Wisconsin-Platteville , winning three (3) NCAA Championships at that level during his tenure. It’s a “continuity” offensive scheme that combines facets of John Wooden’s “UCLA High Post” sets, Tex Winter’s famed Triangle offense that helped Phil Jackson win 11 NBA Titles, and the “Flex” offense favored by the likes of Gary Williams’ 2002 NCAA National Champion Maryland squad and Jerry Sloan’s NBA Utah Jazz teams, all of which have their roots in 1950’s offensive strategy and were popularized in the 1960’s and 1970’s. To suggest it is methodical would be an understatement: Ryan’s design relies on spacing, “valuing” the ball (basketball-speak for “Don’t turn it over”) and continuous, repetitive player movement patterns, mostly comprised of serial cuts through the key, accompanied by screens and followed by passing, passing and more passing between five relatively interchangeable players to create mismatches and open shots. All of which tends to work the shot clock and requires discipline, patience and efficiency. In the modern era of basketball analytics and advanced metrics where the mid-range jump shot has become the enemy of basketball efficiency, the residue of Ryan’s design can be a jump shot with the shot clock winding down; According to data from Synergy Sports, Wisconsin entering the Sweet 16 had generated approximately 54.9% of their field goal attempts (FGA) from jump shots (highest of the Final Four teams). To Ryan’s credit, the bulk of those jump shots (approximately 71%) were the three point shots favored by stat nerds, and Wisconsin is #14 in the country in 3P made with 289, driving an offense that ranks #4 in efficiency (AdjO 120.4). So maybe Ryan is not a basketball caveman after all, especially when you consider …

2.) Frank Kaminsky Is the Most Difficult 1-on-1 Matchup in Dallas. With apologies to Kentucky’s future NBA All-Star Julius Randle, and Connecticut’s Mr. Clutch Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky poses the most difficult match up for opposing defenses at the Final Four. Despite being a true 7-footer, the Badgers’ leading scorer (14.1 ppg), rebounder (6.4 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.7 bpg) is one of those relatively interchangeable players perfect for Wisconsin’s schemes on both sides of the floor. Kaminsky is what some refer to as that modern, mobile, “Euro-style” big, in that he’s a good passer (third-highest assist rate [11.8%] and second lowest turnover rate [8.2%] among the Badgers’ rotation), has a versatile post game (58.3% from two) and shoots threes at a decent percentage (37.8%, making 1/game) as well, making him the most effective field goal (eFG) shooter in Wisconsin’s rotation with an eFG of 57.8%. He can post up whoever is guarding him, whether it be a traditional center or a smaller forward, or pull his defender out away from the basket and either shoot over them or find a cutter for a lay-up, meaning Kaminsky is deadly on pick and pop sets. In their Elite Eight overtime victory over Arizona the West Region MVP was practically unguardable down the stretch, scoring 11 of Wisconsin’s last 21 points and producing a 28 pt/11 reb/1 ast stat line with three (3) 3P baskets and 1 TO in 37 minutes, and has upped his scoring average to 18.5 ppg in Wisconsin’s four (4) NCAA games. Barring foul trouble – Kaminsky has only fouled out once all season – expect to see the Badger Big log a ton of minutes this weekend no matter who or what opponents throw at him, alongside the rest of Wisconsin’s starters for that matter since …

3.) Wisconsin Has The Shortest Rotation of the Final Four. Typically, the Badgers go only seven (7) players deep, with only forward Nigel Hayes (17.7 mpg) and guard Bronson Koenig (15.3 mpg) earning significant time off the bench, while their eighth man Duje Dukan only averaged 6.5 mpg in Big 10 conference play (and 4 mpg in their two closest NCAA Tournament wins over Oregon and Arizona). Moreover, they’re the only team in Dallas whose starters collectively average more than 30 minutes per game (31.2, compared to Kentucky’s 28.1 mpg, Florida’s 28.2 mpg and Connecticut’s 28.6 mpg). It may not be as big a factor during the actual games this weekend, with longer commercial breaks during media and team timeouts as well as five (5) minutes more at halftime in NCAA Tournament games allowing more rest for every team, but it does raise questions on Wisconsin’s collective fatigue going into the Final Four, and whether they will be fresh enough at the end to close out games against deeper competition. However, if last weekend’s Final Four berth-clinching win in overtime is any indication …

4.) No One Will Beat the Badgers by Being “Tougher”. Toughness in a basketball setting is a hard thing to quantify. Several attempts to do so with this year’s Badgers fall short when, upon further examination a.) they aren’t the most proficient rebounding team (#134 in the NCAA with a pedestrian rebound margin of +1.6); b.) they don’t defend this season as well as they did in past seasons, a still respectable #45 in AdjD this season, compared to #1 last season and #12 in 2012; c.) they are not the most physically imposing team, essentially playing a three-guard lineup that goes 6’1”–6’2”–6’3” and two lanky “bigs” in forward Sam Dekker and center Kaminsky; and d.) they are not grinding teams down with their tempo (as reflected in KenPom’s AdjT) as in years past, willing to push the ball in transition a bit more and playing 5.5 more possessions per game than they did two years ago – their 2014 AdjT is 64.0 (#287), compared to their 2012 AdjT of 58.5, good for last (#345) in Division I. However, their eFG (53.3) is the highest of the Final Four teams. They hit their free throws, as four of their five starters shoot above 76% and the overall team percentage is 74.1%. They will not get into foul trouble either, #2 overall in fouls per game (15.0) with only four (4) disqualifications (players fouling out) all year. They value the ball as well as anyone in the country: #1 in turnovers per game with a scant 8.1, and #3 in turnover rate at 11.3%. And, six (6) of their seven (7) losses have been by single digits. In short, Wisconsin will not beat themselves. Which renders them exceedingly tough to beat.

In a final bit of irony, Wisconsin’s pack-line defensive approach tries to stop what not only what modern offenses aim to achieve, by clogging the lane and denying open three-pointers, but also by increasing possession length and forcing the contested jump shots they themselves have been so adept at converting on offense. In other words, they actually want to make you work as hard as they do on offense, and beat you at that game. Wisconsin has dictated the terms of the conflict this season by making 30 of their 37 opponents play the way they wanted – only three (3) teams (North Dakota, Michigan State and NIT Champion Minnesota) have broken 80 against them all season – and if they can continue that this weekend, you have to like their chances.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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