Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Can Bo swing with these guys?
Today I at long last conclude my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the low-turnover never-foul group of young men in Madison, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896....

Last year
25-9 overall, 11-5 in conference. Lost to North Carolina in regional final, 88-82.

Alando Tucker (15.2 PPG, 1.12 PPWS, 15.5 reb. pct., 3.3 assists per 100 possessions)
Kammron Taylor (8.4 PPG, 1.02 PPWS, 6.1 reb. pct., 4.3 a/100 poss.)
Brian Butch (3.6 PPG, 0.99 PPWS, 15.7 reb. pct., 1.4 a/100 poss.)
Ray Nixon (2.5 PPG, 1.01 PPWS, 6.0 reb. pct., 3.1 a/100 poss.)
Michael Flowers (1.2 PPG)
Greg Stiemsma (1.1 PPG)
Jason Chappell (1.0 PPG)

Joe Krabbenhoft (6-7 F, Sioux Falls, SD)
Marcus Landry (6-7 F, Milwaukee)
Mickey Perry (6-2 G, Chicago)
DeAaron Williams (6-4 G, redshirt freshman)

Mike Wilkinson (14.3 PPG, 1.16 PPWS, 14.1 reb. pct., 3.6 a/100 poss.)
Sharif Chambliss (7.5 PPG, 1.02 PPWS, 6.0 reb. pct., 7.1 a/100 poss.)
Zach Morley (7.4 PPG, 1.15 PPWS, 12.7 reb. pct., 4.8 a/100 poss.)
Clayton Hanson (6.5 PPG, 1.20 PPWS, 4.9 reb. pct., 3.6 a/100 poss.)
Andreas Helmigk (2.4 PPG, 0.88 PPWS, 13.2 reb. pct. 3.0 a/100 poss.)

Official motto for 2005-06
"Our athletic director looks more like Clemenza than your athletic director."

What we think we know in November
A very long time ago--two weeks ago, to be exact--I started this series of preseason walk-arounds by saying that Illinois is, for this blogger, one of the two toughest teams in the Big Ten to analyze in advance this year. The other one?...

Yup, it's Wisconsin. Like the Illini, the Badgers will be giving minutes in bulk to players who've seldom if ever carried the game's fate in their hands at crunch time. We simply don't know how these players will perform.

And, if the turnout at Wisconsin's October Midnight Madness event is any indication, this uncertainty appears to have led to a wait-and-see attitude among the Badger faithful. (Only 3,257 fans came out for Midnight Madness. That would be about 20,000 fewer humans than Kentucky drew.)

Well, to all those listless Wisconsin fans, I say: verily, remember 2002! Blogger and Wisconsin fan Chris West does: that was Bo Ryan's first year and the team had just said goodbye to a boatload of starters. (See the parallels?) And all Ryan did was guide that team to a share of the Big Ten title. (OK, so everyone except Penn State got a share of the Big Ten title in 2002. It's still impressive.)

Can Ryan repeat that 2002 performance in 2006?

The Tao of Bo
If he does, it will be the most masterly coaching job yet from a head man rapidly acquiring a reputation for such mastery. Here is what he has to work with:

Ryan's offense last year (and maybe in any year) made up in turnovers what it lacked in rebounding: the performance on the offensive glass was weak but this was offset by the fact that Wisconsin never turned the ball over.

Which is of interest because the Badger defense was the precise opposite: it made up in rebounding what it lacked in turnovers. The performance in creating turnovers from the opponent was weak but this was offset by the fact that the Badgers pounded the defensive glass.

So the offense and defense formed a kind of symbiotic duo last year. And, peering bravely into the future toward this season, I'm fairly confident that all of the above will continue--with one possible exception.

Certainly this year's taller lineup bids fair to do as well if not better on the defensive glass. And as for the low numbers for offensive rebounding and for opponent TOs, both reflect what can only be termed conscious coaching decisions by Ryan. The much-lauded spacing of the swing offense is an aesthetic delight and a challenge to defend--but its one potential drawback is the harm said spacing may inflict upon the Badgers' chances on the offensive glass (more on this below). Likewise, the disavowal of steals is a choice, one that places trust in staying in position, defending the ball, and getting the defensive rebound. So look for more of the same in all of the above this year.

Which leaves only the question of how well Wisconsin will hold on to the ball on offense.

The disappearing Badger guards
The backcourt will, of course, be an insistent question mark on this team--and I mean that quantitatively (as in: where is the backcourt?) as much as qualitatively. When you're starting Brian Butch, Jason Chappell, Alando Tucker, Ray Nixon, and Kammron Taylor, you are putting a lot of height on the floor, granted. (Aside from Taylor, Tucker is the smallest player of the remaining four--by three inches.) But can this lineup extend Ryan's tradition of never turning the ball over? I'm not sure they can--even going slow. (Wisconsin's known to play at a deliberate pace and comments Ryan's been dropping in the preseason--"I would just like for our guys to be able to be a really good half-court defensive team"--suggest that's not likely to change.)

(Nor am I sure this lineup can duplicate last year's success in three-point shooting.)

Last year was Ryan's first season in Madison without either Kirk Penney or Devin Harris and the Badgers still excelled, thanks to the consistency of frontcourt mainstays Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley, as well as the outstanding (and strangely overlooked) outside shooting of Clayton Hanson. (Hanson's shooting was the few drops of vanilla in the recipe of last year's team--it wasn't the main ingredient but it changed the whole flavor of the team for the better.)

All of the above are long gone, of course, meaning this year's Badgers are left, as blogger Chris West says aptly, with only "1.5 proven Big Ten players"....

The man
One has to kind of take stats with a grain of salt when you talk about Alando Tucker. For one thing, he's 6-5 and he's been playing as a power forward. So what's good about Tucker doesn't necessarily show up on paper. (Although certainly the fact that he's only 6-5 and still one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten shows up on said paper well enough.)

What's most worrisome about Tucker doesn't show up on paper, either: his health. Tucker has a history of foot injuries. The Badgers were always able to survive and even thrive without him previously. That may not be the case this year.

Bottom line: I revere Tucker for reasons that transcend stats. I would go to war with this guy. Give me five Alando Tuckers and, never mind the mismatches, I'll win some games.

The only "real" guard?
Kammron Taylor, on the other hand, presents us with that genus of somewhat-but-not-egregiously overrated player for whom stats comprise a necessary cognitive corrective. The junior guard from Minneapolis would not seem to be a promising lump of clay from which to mold your backcourt. He doesn't score efficiently, his assists are so-so, he contributes nothing on the glass, and--ultimate Bo no-no--he turns the ball over way too much.

He's 6-11 and can rebound and shoot--nice combination, that
Brian Butch is widely viewed as not yet having lived up to the promise of (all together now) a McDonald's All-American. But at some point I have to say: forget the expectations, let's look at what's here.

What's here is a really tall guy with a nice touch on his shot and very nice rebounding numbers, albeit in limited minutes. (Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel even made a tentative foray into tempo-free stats and rightly touted Butch's excellent rebounding potential.)

Can he defend? Dunno but we're going to find out this year. (Just don't forget, though, that defensive rebounding is a big part of "defending" and Butch's chops here appear to be in order.)

Still more height
Jason Chappell enters the year with 16 field goal attempts total in his career at Wisconsin. Yet here he is, apparently, a starter. The 6-10 junior, like any Badger not named Alando Tucker, has played capably but not memorably in the first two exhibition games. Along with Butch and 6-11 sophomore Greg Stiemsma, Chappell gives Ryan far and away the tallest team he's had in Madison.

The throwback
Fans of the Magic Johnson-inspired vogue for really long Big Ten guards that briefly took hold in the late 70s and early 80s are in for a treat this season. In effect, Ray Nixon is a 6-8 guy who will be functioning a good deal of the time as a guard. How this will work is anyone's guess, although if Ryan has one skill it would seem to be an ability to get newly-minted regulars to buy into the system with incredible speed.

The suddenly much more important guy
Michael Flowers provides Ryan with virtually his only experienced backcourt depth ("experienced" being, as with Illinois this year, a relative term with this bunch)--and the reports this preseason on the 6-2 sophomore are favorable. We will likely be seeing a lot of him this year.

What about the new guys?
Marcus Landry (younger brother of Carl Landry) is earning raves as a "warrior" in practice even though, at 6-7 215, he's a little undersized for the 4-spot. (But so was Tucker as a freshman and he turned out OK.)

Also 6-7, Joe Krabbenhoft has reportedly been working out at both the 2 and the 3 spots.

Mickey Perry has been touted as a possible source of some outside shooting.

Even scrappy freshman walk-on Kevin Gullikson is getting some ink.

BONUS Wonk homily on the value and meaning of defensive rebounding!
Here's a garishly crude and reductive oversimplification for you: offensive rebounding is determined by your coach; defensive rebounding is determined by your players.

No team in the Big Ten consistently plays a zone defense, of course, so everyone's essentially in the same boat when it comes to getting defensive boards: box out your man. And because players on every Big Ten team are all pretty much engaged in the same task here, individual player numbers for defensive rebounding can be compared across teams with some merit.

But it's different on offense and, thus, not all teams are created equal when it comes to judging offensive rebounding. As long as Bo Ryan plays a swing offense, for instance, Wisconsin's numbers on the offensive boards will likely be mediocre or worse. Emphasizing spacing and mismatches, Ryan, at least to date, has placed his bet on working to get a matchup and shot so good that there'll be no rebound to worry about.

And it works. Wisconsin's offense is consistently above-average in the conference, despite the fact that this very same spacing kills your chances on the offensive glass.

Pursuer of your own idiosyncratic style Bo Ryan, Wonk salutes you! Oh, sure, the easy thing would be for this blogger to tut-tut sternly and say "Wisconsin must improve its offensive rebounding." But that's not the program here! If you can be effective with a different style, I say do it!

(Egad! That sounds like style-sensitive hoops critique. What a concept!)

You can quote him
Bo Ryan: "As the game goes on, speed fatigues, but height doesn't shrink."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa beat Colgate 73-51 in second-round action in the Guardians Classic last night in Iowa City. Greg Brunner led the Hawkeyes with 16 points and added eight boards. (An impostor disguised as) Erek Hansen also had eight rebounds. Iowa advances to play Kentucky in the Classic's semifinals Monday night in Kansas City. (Recap and box score.)

UNC-Wilmington beat Northwestern 56-48 to win the BCA Invitational championship last night in Laramie, Wyoming. In a very slow game, the Wildcats attempted only 37 field goals and made just 15, including 4-of-16 shooting on their threes. Don't blame Vedran Vukusic--he was 4-of-9 on his threes. His teammates were 0-of-7. Vukusic led all scorers with 23 points. (Recap and box score.)

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