More scoring, less defense? Welcome to this season's Badgers
NOV 20, 2013 10:39a ET
MADISON, Wis. -- To all the fans and pundits who last month pegged this Wisconsin basketball team as just another slow, boring, defensive-oriented Badgers unit of years past, would you care to rethink that decision?
Four games into the season, and Wisconsin resembles little of the successful outfits that have come through during coach Bo Ryan's 13-year tenure. The Badgers, 4-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country, are still winning games. But they're accomplishing their goals in an entirely different manner.
No, this isn't your older brother's Badgers team.
Consider that Tuesday night's 103-85 victory against North Dakota at the Kohl Center represented the highest-scoring game for Wisconsin in nearly 18 years. Wisconsin topped the 100-point mark for the first time since a 105-70 victory against Eastern Illinois back on Dec. 28, 1995 -- six years before Ryan became head coach.
The Badgers' previous high at the Kohl Center was a 99-55 victory against Prairie View A&M on Nov. 14, 2010.
You could say hitting triple digits is an aberration -- led by center Frank Kaminsky's program-breaking single-game scoring record of 43 points. But Wisconsin also found a way to score 86 points in an 11-point season-opening victory against St. John's, and the Badgers clearly have the ability to score in bunches.
This year's Wisconsin team is unique because Ryan is starting a three-guard lineup intent on pushing a far greater pace than past seasons. Even the Badgers' bigger starters -- forward Sam Dekker and Kaminsky -- are more comfortable running the floor. At times during Tuesday night's victory, Ryan even used a four-guard lineup.
Wisconsin is averaging 68.0 possessions per game, which is the highest number during Ryan's Badgers tenure. Last year's possessions per game was 62.3. The 11 seasons before that under Ryan looked like this: 59.1, 57.7, 60.3, 60.1, 62.4, 63.6, 67.0, 63.6, 61.7, 63.3, 64.8.
But the most impressive aspect of Wisconsin's higher tempo isn't simply having more possessions. The Badgers are taking advantage of those possessions. Wisconsin is averaging 1.17 points per possession compared to 1.04 per possession a year ago.
Additionally, Wisconsin ranks No. 14 in the country out of 347 Division I teams in 3-point shooting percentage (45.7 percent). Last year's team shot 33.0 percent, ranked 225th nationally and was the worst perimeter shooting team in Ryan's tenure at Wisconsin.
North Dakota coach Brian Jones said he believed the pace began with Badgers starting point guard Traevon Jackson. The junior is averaging 11.5 points per game, leads the team with 19 assists and finished with a career-high eight assists against North Dakota.
"What I've noticed on film, when he's off the floor at Green Bay, they play the typical style they're used to," Jones said. "Probably play a little bit slower, a little more cerebral. But with him, he forces the tempo. I think he starts it that way."
Through four games, Wisconsin is averaging 79.3 points per game, which ranks 116th in the country. And though that number is sure to decrease once the grind of Big Ten play arrives, the Badgers have a real opportunity to be the highest scoring team ever under Ryan because no team has averaged more than 71.1 points.
Here's a look at Wisconsin's previous scoring averages and national ranking:
2012-13: 65.0 points per game (tied for 240th)
2011-12: 64.0 (261st)
2010-11: 67.9 (tied 200th)
2009-10: 67.1 (tied for 215th)
2008-09: 63.8 (tied for 261st)
2007-08: 67.3 (tied for 206th)
2006-07: 70.2 (tied for 142nd)
2005-06: 71.1 (tied for 121st)
2004-05: 67.4 (tied for 204th)
2003-04: 68.4 (tied for 195th)
2002-03: 70.3 (tied for 162nd)
2001-02: 67.0 (tied for 245th)
Ryan said he was comfortable with Wisconsin's pace of play, provided that the shots were open. And there were plenty of open shots as the Badgers made 35 of 59 attempts Tuesday (59.3 percent).
"It depends on how easy looks you're getting down the floor and how fast they are," Ryan said following Tuesday's victory. "We got open looks. We got good scoring opportunities. And when they present themselves, you don't tell the players, 'Well, no don't take that shot.' That's a good shot.
"There might have been three bad shots out of those 59. There might have been three that I wouldn't want us to take again. So I think a lot of that would depend on what kind of shots you're getting."
While some of the most experienced basketball fans could have perhaps seen the increased scoring output coming given the Badgers' personnel, few likely predicted the team's defensive efficiency would also decrease so drastically.
Wisconsin is allowing 1.03 points per defensive possession. Last year, that number stood at 0.90, and it has been 1.0 or higher only three times in the past 12 seasons. The Badgers also have surrendered back-to-back individual 30-point performances, first to Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes (32) and then to North Dakota guard Troy Huff (37).
"We did play some bad defense," Jackson said Tuesday night. "Their guy Huff, he hit 15-for-22, he hit some really good shots. The shots that he was making and the other guards, they were hitting a lot of floaters. And two-point jump shots, which is what we give up.
"It was a credit to them. We'll get better from it. We'll just have to learn from it and move on."
Other defensive statistics indicate Wisconsin is light years away from its teams of the past. For example, the Badgers have ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense in each of the past seven seasons. But this year, Wisconsin is allowing 69.8 points per game, which ranks No. 144 nationally. The Badgers have never allowed more than 65.7 points per game under Ryan.
These are Wisconsin's defensive scoring averages with Ryan in charge:
2012-13: 55.9 points per game (tied for sixth)
2011-12: 53.2 (first)
2010-11: 58.6 (fourth)
2009-10: 56.9 (fourth)
2008-09: 59.0 (10th)
2007-08: 54.4 (first)
2006-07: 57.9 (10th)
2005-06: 65.6 (tied for 96th)
2004-05: 60.2 (12th)
2003-04: 57.0 (fourth)
2002-03: 59.3 (sixth)
2001-02: 65.7 (53rd)
Wisconsin returns to the court Thursday with a 7 p.m. home game against Bowling Green, the second of three games in five nights at the Kohl Center. And early returns suggest there could be plenty of reasons for fans to attend.
"The good thing about this week, having three games, we can put this one behind us," Dekker said after the North Dakota victory. "We have a lot of things that we can correct. We've got two more games coming up this week, so we can put this defensive performance behind us and get better.
"Things can only get up. This is our fourth game of the year. We have a lot to improve on, and I think we're going to do that."
That's a scary sounding proposition for opponents, who had better be ready to play against the most entertaining and up-tempo Wisconsin team in years.
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