staff, November 8, 2013

It's gotten to the point of cliche. "As long as Bo Ryan is head coach at Wisconsin, put the Badgers in your top 25." We Geeks take pride in scoffing at conventional wisdom, but don't some things become cliche for a reason?

This is one bit of conventional wisdom with which we can't really argue.

With most programs, we can look at returning minutes, returning freshman minutes, and prior season efficiency margin, and we're most of the way to a solid projection. Sure, we still look at how the pieces fit together, what the team's strengths and weaknesses were, and what new players are coming in, but we can usually tell an awful lot just from returning minute numbers.

That model doesn't really work with Wisconsin.

Returning Minute % Returning Freshman-to-Sophomore Minute % KenPom Rank
2013-14 56 18 ??
2012-13 58 4 13
2011-12 51 15 7
2010-11 66 10 8

The Badgers have been returning fewer than 60 percent of their minutes on a regular basis the past few seasons without missing a beat. Wisconsin has been a model of consistency, finishing in the KenPom top 13 and securing a four or five seed in the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons.

So, when it comes to previewing Wisconsin, the focus shifts. We should assume a baseline of Bo Ryan having a top 25 team, then identify anything that could cause us to doubt that assumption.

For this edition of the Badgers, the question mark is obviously the frontcourt. Last season's team excelled largely because of its interior defense, as Big Ten opponents shot a lowly 42 percent on twos, the stingiest mark allowed in the Big Ten in the entire tempo free era. The entire starting frontcourt has now graduated, leaving uncertainty about who protects the paint and collects defensive rebounds.

Here's Wisconsin's conference-only Stops and Fouls data (departed players in bold):

Player Stops Minutes Stops/40 Minutes Fouls/40 Minutes
Berggren 116.5 560 8.3 2.2
Evans 111.4 518 8.6 3.1
Bruesewitz 90.7 551 6.6 3.3
Brust 67.3 654 4.1 1.3
Jackson 59.8 548 4.4 3.0
Dekker 56.0 406 5.5 2.3
Kaminsky 28.1 133 8.4 5.8
Marshall 7.4 256 1.2 3.4

That's a whole lot of Stops to replace at a reasonably low foul rate.

Junior Frank Kaminsky seems the obvious candidate to take over the center position, and while he did show some improved rebounding and shotblocking ability last season, it's unclear whether he can be a plus interior defender. Kaminsky averaged 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes in conference play as a sophomore, and that figure has to go way down if he's to be a net positive on the defensive end.

Super soph Sam Dekker figures to start at the four, which provides the team with tantalizing offensive potential but further defensive question marks. For all his virtues as a freshman, Dekker was not a particularly good rebounder, and he's really more of a tall guard than a power forward.

If it feels like we're focusing on the negatives, it's because we are. This team should have a fantastic offense, as none of the departed starters had much shooting luck in conference play:

2pt FGM 2pt FGA 2pt FG% 3pt FGM 3pt FGA 3pt FG% eFG%
Jared Berggren 63 118 53% 8 48 17% 45%
Ryan Evans 65 165 39% 1 7 14% 39%
Mike Bruesewitz 21 50 42% 15 61 25% 39%
TOTAL 149 333 45% 24 116 21% 41%

Evans in particular had a love of the midrange jumper, and Wisconsin will not miss those low percentage shots in the least. For all the things that these three seniors did well, knocking down shots was not one of them. Expect the Badgers to get back to what they've usually been under Ryan–an offensive juggernaut that goes misidentified as a defensive stalwart due to a slow tempo.

Dekker will lead this charge, and his offensive potential is off the charts. Even as a true freshman coming off the bench for a bad offensive team, Dekker exhibited superb accuracy and a keen understanding of what makes a good shot. Wisconsin's slow tempo will restrain Dekker's conventional statistics, but this is a likely all-conference performer.

The conventional wisdom is to never bet against the Badgers. Even us Geeks have to be conventional once in awhile.