staff, November 7, 2012

For today's point/counterpoint, we're debating how Wisconsin can move on without Jordan Taylor.

Point: Yes, and thrive.

It goes without saying that Jordan Taylor was not only one of the best players in the country over the past couple of seasons, but he might well be the best Badger of all time. To put it mildly, those are big shoes to fill. But the smart money is on Wisconsin not missing a beat. From a raw numbers perspective, this is an easy argument to make. Consider:

  • Wisconsin was good last year;
  • The Badgers return 76 58 percent (poor Gasser) of last year?s minutes;
  • Wisconsin also had one of the Big Ten?s best defenses last year, and Taylor?s absence won?t change that; and
  • Bo Ryan is still the coach.

But there?s more. While Taylor was still very good last season, UW was nonetheless a pretty bad offensive team in Big Ten play, ranking a dismal 8th in conference play on a point-per-possession basis. And that?s because just about everyone outside of Taylor was awful against the rest of the Big Ten.

But they won?t be as awful this year, mostly because these things tend to regress to the mean. Jared Berggren is not going to shoot 41 percent on two-pointers again. Ryan Evans will almost surely improve on his two-point (45 percent) and three-point (17 percent) accuracy as well. And let?s not forget, Bo Ryan welcomes possibly the Big Ten?s best freshman in Sam Dekker, who should be able to provide offensive help instantly.

This is all well and good, of course, but it also ignores the fact that Taylor is a point guard who was on the floor about 90 percent of the time for Wisconsin last year, and your guess as to who will assume that responsibility is as good as mine. It might be redshirt freshman George Marshall and it might be Josh Gasser. Or, it just might be no one. In the 2007-08 season, Trevon Hughes was only a sophomore and not quite yet a point guard. Senior Michael Flowers also really was not much of a floor general. But the team nonetheless won 31 games. The year before was largely the same story, and Wisconsin won 30 games. We?re used to seeing Jordan Taylor running the show in Madison, so it?s easy to forget that Bo Ryan?s previous teams have not typically leaned on a point guard.

So while Jordan Taylor is a difficult player to replace, there?s plenty of low-hanging fruit for the offense to make gains, and there?s nothing about Wisconsin?s offense that fundamentally requires an elite floor general.

– Josh

Counterpoint: Yes, with one big reservation.

I mostly agree with you. Wisconsin should once again be an upper half team in the Big Ten on the strength of a stifling defense, but I have concerns about that offense:

Points per possession, conference-only B1G Rank
2003 1.082 1
2004 1.122 3
2005 1.076 3
2006 1.042 5
2007 1.075 3
2008 1.098 1
2009 1.093 1
2010 1.104 1
2011 1.199 1
2012 1.030 8

Last season?s Badgers were the worst offensive group Bo Ryan has had in at least 10 years, and now they have to replace their best offensive player. As you mentioned, the big issue was shooting, and the numbers for the returnees are putrid:

eFG% 3pt FG% 2pt FG%
Jordan Taylor/Rob Wilson 48.7% 35.2% 44.9%
Rest of team 45.9% 30.9% 45.6%

Now, as you said, shooting percentages tend to revert to the mean, so we can expect at least some improvement here. And, if you want to take an optimistic approach, you can say that Bo Ryan has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to coaching offense–his Badgers had led the Big Ten in offensive efficiency for four straight seasons before last year?s nosedive. Maybe it was just an off year with some fluky bad shooting.

I?m not sure that?s the full explanation though. I look at an offense headlined by midrange enthusiast Ryan Evans and wonder if the Badgers won?t be grinding out wins even more so than usual. I?m sure Dekker will contribute, but I wonder if he won?t be brought along more slowly than most anticipate. After all, Bo Ryan is a man obsessed with limiting turnovers, and he consequently hasn?t allowed a true freshman to play a major role in his offense since Alando Tucker. Of course, the backdrop of a poor shooting team can change things, and Dekker has the talent to be an exception. If he isn?t, the Badgers could be looking at even more games in the 50s than usual.

– Mike