2011-12 Season Preview: Wisconsin

Our penultimate preview is for the Wisconsin Badgers, a team that’s been a lot more dominant over the Big Ten of late than most people realize.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor

US Presswire

10-11 Overall Record: 25-9
10-11 Conference Record: 13-5
10-11 Conference Efficiency Margin: 0.11
Percent of Returning Minutes: 51.3%
Percent of Returning Freshman Minutes: 14.5%Wisconsin has made some dynamite hires over the past 25 years. Barry Alvarez certainly stands out. So does Pat Richter and Bret Bielema.

But is the best one Bo Ryan?

Ryan took over the team beginning with the 2001-02 season. Under his watch, the Badgers have never missed the NCAA Tournament. They’ve won the conference three times. The team has won 73 percent of its games overall, and a stunning 93 percent of its games at home. Of course, these stats are all well-known in Badger circles. But here are some more:

Team

   Efficiency Margin in Conference Play, 2001-2011   

Wisconsin

0.12

Illinois

0.08

Michigan State

0.08

Ohio State

0.07

Purdue

0.03

Indiana

-0.01

Iowa

-0.03

Minnesota

-0.04

Michigan

-0.04

Northwestern

-0.10

Penn State

-0.14

Wisconsin has been the class of the Big Ten for the past ten seasons, and it’s not very close, either. Over that same span, every team has suffered with at least one season with a negative efficiency margin. Except the Badgers. But let’s put this into context:

Team

   Efficiency Margin in Conference Play, 2001-2011   

Kansas

0.18

Duke

0.13

Wisconsin

0.12

Pitt

0.11

Texas

0.11

Other than Duke or Kansas, no team has dominated its conference like Bo’s Badgers. And that’s simply stunning. Duke, Kansas, UNC, Kentucky, UCLA–we expect dominance from these programs, given the well-trod paths from the McDonald’s All-America Game to those campuses. But Wisconsin does not recruit at that level. Indeed, at least based on recruiting rankings, Bo’s track record is pretty ho-hum:

Team

   Average Number of Eligible Top 100 Players Per Season 2001-2011   

Michigan State

7.7

Illinois

5.1

Ohio State

5.0

Michigan

4.5

Indiana

4.1

Wisconsin

3.1

Minnesota

2.3

Iowa

2.2

Purdue

2.2

Penn State

0.4

Northwestern

0.2

Devin Harris, Alando Tucker, Jordan Taylor–these were not top 100 recruits, but nonetheless developed into stars. When Bo shows interest in a high school player, other coaches take notice.

All of this is fun history celebrating one of the best coaches in the country, but what about this season? Well, never bet against the Badgers. Gary Parrish won’t be making the same mistake again. And neither will I. For one, although Wisconsin loses about half of the minutes from last season (mostly in the form of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil), that’s not too bad compared to the rest of the conference. Ryan’s been able to overcome losses every season by sticking to the same formula–extremely low turnovers and superb defensive rebounding. Taken together, the philosophy is one of maximizing the offense’s scoring attempts and limiting those of the defense. If you want proof, follow the Badgers’ box scores this season. You’ll find that in nearly every game, Wisconsin will have more shot attempts than the opponent.

Hyper-efficient Big Ten Geek Player of the Year Jordan Taylor returns for his senior season, but don’t look for him to improve too much. Because he can’t. The guy shot 47 percent from three point range in conference play (he was actually better from behind the arc than from within it), consumed about 30 of his team’s possessions, played 93 percent of the available minutes, and dished out 88 assists. But most remarkable is that he did all that and turned the ball over 20 times. Darius Morris was an outstanding player last year, and he turned the ball over 103 times.  Jordan Taylor, the senior, hasn’t turned the ball over that many times in his career. Long story short, Taylor is awesome. Go read some Luke Winn if you want to read more on that.

The big hurdle for the Badgers this season will be how they complement Taylor, because there’s not much room for him to grow. The top candidate for a sidekick to Taylor is probably Jared Berggren, who was automatic when he got the ball on the block last year. He was still a bit raw, but an offseason should add some polish to his game. Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser will almost certainly remain as efficient role players, albeit with marginally increased roles in the offense. Another player will have to emerge, and whether that’s Ryan Evans, Rob Wilson, Ryan Anderson, Ben Brust, or freshman Jared Uthoff is anyone’s guess. But count on someone taking enough of the load off Taylor to allow Wisconsin to field another great offense and compete for another conference title.

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