Alone in first--how'd Wisconsin do it?Just 13 short days ago, Wisconsin lost at Pitt 73-64, leaving the Badgers at 10-2. A very nice record, to be sure, particularly for a team this young. Still, I think it's fair to say there wasn't much buzz surrounding Bo Ryan's team.What a difference 13 days makes. UW is 3-0 and the lone remaining undefeated team in Big Ten conference play. Yes, the schedule has helped: Wisconsin's played two home games and a road game at 0-2 Minnesota. On the other hand, the Gophers are 0-2, in part, because the Badgers played well enough to win--and home games against Iowa and Michigan State aren't necessarily the easiest contests the Big Ten has to offer.How has Wisconsin done it? Have they improved as the season's progressed or are we just taking notice for the first time? Let's take a quick look at some then-and-now goodies:Wisconsin: first 12 (non-conference) gamesPoints per possession (PPP): 1.13Effective FG pct. (eFG pct.): 52.5TO pct.: 17.9Offensive rebound pct.: 38.6Opponent PPP: 0.95Opponent eFG pct.: 47.4Opponent TO pct.: 21.8Defensive rebound pct.: 68.9Wisconsin: last three (Big Ten) games
eFG pct.: 53.0
TO pct.: 17.8
Offensive rebound pct.: 25.9
Opponent PPP: 0.85
Opponent eFG pct.: 38.3
Opponent TO pct.: 17.8
Defensive rebound pct.: 72.8Keep in mind the numbers almost invariably get uglier when you get to conference play: you score less efficiently and your opponent scores more efficiently because the level of competition is dramatically improved. (Last year, for example, the only exception to this uglier-numbers rule was Indiana, who found a schedule with just one game each against Final Four-bound Illinois and Michigan State more hospitable statistically than a non-conference slate that included North Carolina, Connecticut, and Kentucky.)So, bearing this tendency in mind, the Badgers' sudden dip in offensive efficiency (from 1.13 to 1.02 points per possession) is notable, certainly, but not necessarily cause for alarm (particularly not when you're 3-0 and in first place). As for the similarly pronounced drop-off in offensive rebounding, I've discussed (with the active participation of the alert readers) the Badgers' work on the offensive glass at some length. I'm on the record as seeing UW's historically low numbers for offensive rebounding as a conscious stylistic choice by Bo Ryan, one that favors offensive spacing and transition D over crashing the offensive glass. (That being said, a 25.9 offensive reb. pct. is still too low--last year the Badgers posted a 33.1--and I fully expect that number to increase in the weeks ahead.) So much for the offense.But look at the D: it's actually improved dramatically (from 0.95 points allowed per possession to 0.85). And the primary area of improvement has been FG defense, where Wisconsin is suddenly achieving Iowa-like results: Big Ten opponents have just a 38.3 effective FG pct. against UW.Is this a fluke, attributable to Wisconsin playing two teams struggling offensively (Iowa and Minnesota)? Or is it sustainable, as suggested by the Badgers' defensive success against a very good offensive team (Michigan State)? Easy answer: we'll find out Wednesday, when Wisconsin plays at Ohio State. The Buckeyes lead the league in offensive efficiency, with a gaudy 1.25 points per possession in conference play. (A number admittedly skewed by a laughably lopsided home win by OSU over Penn State.)Meantime: hitherto stout defensive stalwarts of Madison, Wonk salutes you!In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Ohio State plays Michigan State in Columbus Sunday. Spartan guard Shannon Brown says he may or may not be back next year for his senior season: "If I have to stay, I'll stay. If I don't, I don't."...Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says for "the Spartans to win the Big Ten against an extremely tough schedule," Mo Ager has to be the man....Detroit News Spartan watcher Dave Dye says Sunday's game in Columbus is huge if State is to entertain any hopes of catching Wisconsin: "The Badgers should be 4-0 after Saturday's home game against Northwestern. They also don't have to play on the road against Illinois and Indiana. Considering that scheduling advantage, falling three games behind Wisconsin after two weeks would be a very tough obstacle to overcome."Illinois plays Michigan tomorrow in Champaign. What are the chances of the Wolverines winning at the Assembly Hall? "None," according to Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News. (Well, there you are.)...Coming off the Illini's poor offensive showing in their 63-48 loss at Iowa last Saturday, Bruce Weber admits he's been tough on his team this week in practice ("We've been pretty hard on them"). In fact: "It's been a long week." Illinois big man James Augustine agrees: "Coach has been on us. But the guys have been taking it pretty good. When you're winning, you kind of get cocky. You're like, 'Let's keep doing what we're doing.' Now people are more excited to learn. A lot of people are listening."...Profile of offensive-work-in-progress Brian Randle here. Recruiting buzz on Chicago Marshall senior guard Patrick Beverley here.Penn State plays Iowa tomorrow in State College. Spanking good game previews to be had out there from Jeff Rice of the Centre Daily Times (here) and, of course, from canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska (here)....Hawkeye sophomore J.R. Angle is redshirting this year; profile here. The Hawks will be the subject of a behind-the-scenes feature to be aired on ESPN2 later this month.Wisconsin play Northwestern tomorrow in Madison. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Jeff Potrykus says Badger fans should count themselves fortunate to have had the likes of Dick Bennett and now Bo Ryan at the helm in Madison.Purdue plays Minnesota tomorrow night in West Lafayette. Nifty assessment of where the Gophers are now here, courtesy of Golden Gopher Hoops. Briskly efficient retelling of how they got to where they are here, via Gopher Hoops. Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Hoosier no like Hoosier D Latest update from alert reader and die-hard Hoosier fan Nate:Wonk,
Watching the Hoosiers play at Michigan State was not easy. You've stated that the Hoosiers are more enjoyable now that they're up-tempo (at least compared to last year). However, Wednesday night was a debacle. I'd rather watch them play great defense (and win) than see another performance like this. I understand that MSU had a lot to play for (0-3 going to OSU is not good to say the least). But the Hoosiers should have been called the Generals, as they made MSU look like the Globetrotters. (By the way, Wonk, you touched on IU being at the mercy of Killingsworth on the off. boards. But you missed a big point, how does he play 34 minutes and get one rebound? Every other Hoosier that played more than 10 minutes got at least two boards.)
Still, all in all, I am not worried as MSU is a good team and I expected this (if not worse) after MSU's performances at Illinois and Wisconsin. If IU plays this type of "defense" again (I wonder how much missing Monroe affected the suddenly-porous perimeter defense) at home vs. Illinois, then the Davis-haters will be out in force.Nate D.IndyThanks, Nate. As for Killingsworth, one board is indeed a tad on the paltry side. Duly noted.Spartan no like Spartan DHi, Wonk,
That Indiana-MSU game featured no defense on either end. I am still concerned about the Spartan defense--it's improved over the course of the season but is still nowhere near where it needs to be for us to win the Big Ten or go very far in the tournament. Still, Indiana looked even worse than we did on D last night. I can only hope Ohio State is just as inept, as they will probably shoot close to or above 50 percent against us.
Izzo seems surprisingly complacent about our D. I'm not sure why that is, but I'm sure it can't be because he's unaware of how poorly we're playing. If you give up 50 percent three point shooting (or even two point shooting) once, you can chalk it up to the other team having a hot night, but when it happens repeatedly, it's your D. One thing that really bugs me is the fact that we are last in the league in forcing turnovers. This is a team that claims to want to run. Shouldn't such a team be trying to force turnovers to create easy transition baskets? Instead we almost never pressure the ball or overplay the passing lanes. I understand wanting to play fundamentally sound, "keep 'em in front of you" defense but I would still like to see us take a more chances to force turnovers. We might give up the occasional easy bucket, but given the high percentages teams are shooting against us, it seems like they're all "easy buckets" for our opponents. At least forcing turnovers might give us some easy baskets on the other end. (Then again, given our performance against Indiana, maybe all of ours are "easy baskets" too).
I just have this lingering concern about what happens when an unstoppable force (the super-efficient MSU offense) meets an immovable object (a top shelf defense): what you get is this year's MSU-Illinois game (or, worse, MSU-Wisconsin). Maybe the Flintstone era has permanently conditioned me to expect the worst from the MSU offense, but I still can't get used to the idea of us winning by outscoring the other team rather than using our defense to bludgeon them into submission.
Mark J.Fret duly recorded--thanks, Mark!