Monday, March 7, 2016

Awards

The season has flown by, and it's time to hand out the virtual hardware. But before I get to that, one quick State of the Big Ten take. This conference season was unlike any other I can remember (though I don't have a very good memory) in that I really think the conference has at least two National Title Contenders, but also has at least four teams that would have been, in a "normal year," a suitable last-place team. As recently as 2014—the last of the Pre-Rutgers Era—not a single Big Ten team ranked as low in Ken Pomeroy's computer as Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Rutgers do today. But the top of this year's Big Ten is every bit as good as that season's.

The result of such a large gap between the Haves and Have Nots are some truly bizarre efficiency margins. Michigan State featured both the conference's best offense and best defense, for an even +0.20 efficiency margin. Indiana won the Big Ten outright by a full two games, but well behind the Spartans with a still very good +0.15 margin. The Ohio State Buckeyes had a great on paper 11-7 season, but actually went negative by efficiency margin—6 games against the aforementioned Bottom Four will do that. 

While this was an enjoyable season of Big Ten basketball, to this point it has not been a successful one. The conference ranks as the second worst high-major conference per Pomeroy, which should really be the floor for a conference featuring long winters and the state of Indiana. Football dynasties will be difficult and short-lived, but basketball should be king. 

And now, (virtual) awards. 

Player of the Year: Denzel Valentine

No surprises here, and frankly I'm a little floored he's not the consensus choice for the National Player of the Year. Yes, he missed four games—but is there any doubt that his numbers would be stronger, if he had another 40 minutes versus the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, and Oakland? If you put him up against 2015 Frank Kaminsky, well, I'd probably still vote for Kaminsky but this would be as close to a Bush v. Gore race as a cold look at numbers could provide. 

Denzel shot 50% on three-pointers in Big Ten play while consuming 28 percent of his team's possessions and functioning as the best distributor in the league. Don't get cute, don't engage in invented language debates over "best" and "valuable" (they are, and always will be, the same), don't give one player a trophy because of how his teammates performed. Just write Denzel. 

Rest of the 1st Team: 

Yogi Ferrell
Jarrod Uthoff
Diamond Stone
A.J. Hammons

I don't understand the compulsion of filling out a first team with some loose rules around positions. So my team has two centers and two point guards—so what? 

I'm most conflicted about including Uthoff on this list. He's had a fine season overall, but he slumped over the second half of the Big Ten schedule, and it produced some middling numbers. For instance, his relatively low 47.1 eFG. Offensively, the best thing he has going for him is the high consumption of possessions without turning the ball over—remarkable, considering he opened up the Big Ten slate by turning the ball over 8 times against Michigan State. But Uthoff also doesn't create very much for his teammates, and his free throw rate isn't so spectacular that he's showing exceptional skill by not turning the ball over in high-contact situations. His defense (blocks, really) put him over the top for me, but I would not blame any Malcolm Hill (virtually same eFG, more possessions, better rebounding, many more assists, most fouls drawn in the Big Ten) or Matt Costello (much higher eFG, Big Ten's best rebounder) fans for sending some hate tweets. 

Freshman of the Year: Diamond Stone

Ethan Happ seems to be getting a lot of talk for this award, but I can't get there. Offensively, it's no contest, as Stone consumes the same number of possessions, converts at a higher rate, and gets to the line a ton, where he shoots 77%. Is it because Happ plays a few minutes per game more? Because Maryland seems like a disappointment and therefore needs to be punished? Because Stone did this? 


Maybe those things move the needle with you. Or maybe it's Happ's defense (more on that in a bit). I don't discount the value of defense, but Stone is a very good shotblocker, gets an admirable amount of steals, and keeps the fouls down quite well, as freshmen centers go. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Ethan Happ

Happ finishes the Big Ten slate with a 5.5% steal rate, meaning on average he garnered 5.5 steals for every 100 possessions he was on the floor. That's a lot—here are the Big Ten single-season leaders since the 2002-03 season: 
  1. Happ (2016), 5.5
  2. Chris Kramer (2008), 5.0
  3. Al Nolen (2008), 5.0
  4. Damian Johnson (2008), 4.9
  5. Aaron Craft (2014), 4.9
Happ didn't just set the modern-day mark—he obliterated it. He also was the 4th-best defensive rebounder and ranked in the top-20 in block percentage. It's also worth mentioning that he led the Big Ten in defensive rating. 

The list above (and extending the list to the top-20 or so would make it more clear) that the leaders are generally pressuring point guards and/or players that were in a pressing defensive scheme. Happ and the Wisconsin Badgers are neither of those things, and this season was the first in which the Big Ten's collective turnover rate dipped below 17.0 in the Tempo Free (aka, "As Far Back as Pomeroy's Computer Can Take Us") Era. Happ was swimming upstream, didn't neglect his other defensive responsibilities, and still lapped the competition. 

Happ may not be the conference's best freshman, but there's quite the ceiling here. In two or three seasons, you will be nauseous from reading so many paint-by-numbers puff pieces about the Badger from the Quad Cities. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Big Ten's Best Freshmen

We're about two-thirds into the conference season, and there's still a lot we don't really know about this conference. For starters, which team is the Big Ten's best? Will the Big Ten get 7 teams into the Dance? 6? 5?

Those are all fun topics, but they're also ones with no real clarity right now. But I do think it's time we look at the future of the conference in the form of the Big Ten's freshman class. Here are the best of the bunch:

Diamond Stone, Maryland

Stone has a legitimate claim to 1st-team All Big Ten, so it should be no surprise that he's listed here. No one—not even Melo Trimble—consumes more possessions while on the floor than Stone and he also happens to be the most offensively efficient Terrapin as well (118.3 ORtg). His efficiency is extremely predictable as well: if I told you that Maryland's incoming 7-foot, 260 pound center was going to have an exceptional season, you probably could have guessed what that looked like:
  • High two point percentage
  • Strong rebounding
  • Elite rim protection
  • Ability to get to the free throw line, where he is an asset, not a liability
Stone has checked all of those boxes with aplomb, and the only real "surprise" is that he's shown no symptoms of careless ballhandling, or off-ball offensive fouls, that typically pump up freshman post player turnover numbers. Unless Stone is drafted by the Wizards, I doubt local Maryland fans will get to see him in person much more after this season. 


Deyonta Davis, Michigan State

I feel like Davis has received relatively little publicity relative to his production. Maybe it's because he's pretty well-locked into a semi-starting timeshare within Tom Izzo's stable of big men, but that's more a reflection on how well Matt Costello has played.

(Seriously, Costello has gone supernova in conference play: large share of the offense, the Big Ten's best rebounder, 55% shooter, and a strong candidate for the best defensive player in the Big Ten).

Davis has been compared to former Spartan Adreian Payne, but—no offense to Payne—Davis is much better at the same stage. Payne never converted over 60 percent of his 2s, and he was never an elite rim protector like Payne. With Costello and Davis, Izzo has an embarrassment of riches in the post (they're pretty good on the perimeter, too...how does this team have 5 conference losses again?). But he might be without both players next season.

Thomas Bryant, Indiana

Sensing a theme here? The center position in the Big Ten is very strong right now, and that appears to be a long term trend going forward. Bryant excels on the offensive side, where he's converted nearly 75 percent of his chances by, well, dunking:



Mind you, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Bryant is the perfect big man for Tom Crean's offense, with its attacks at the rim and kick-outs for 3-pointers. Will the scouts love Bryant's one-dimensional game on offense? Maybe not, but there's plenty to build on here. Bryant shows some willingness to attempt 3s, suggesting he's got some shooting ability. He also excels at getting to the line, rebounding, and he's at least a capable defender. Where he struggles is typical with freshmen centers—too many turnovers and too much fouling. There's plenty of upside here, and it would not shock me if he were a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in 2017.



Corey Sanders, Rutgers

Yeah, that's right. Rutgers. How's that for a Hot Take?

Sure, Sanders' efficiency isn't where you want it (95.2 in conference play), but his usage is sky-high (30.6 percent of Rutgers' possessions) and he's clearly the primary (sole?) focus of opposing defenses. He's the team's best point guard, defender, scorer, shooter, and possibly coach. Were Sanders playing for Duke, he would be shooting 40 percent from 3 with some fantastic assist numbers.

Look at it this way—Sanders has the 5th-highest assist rate in the Big Ten, and that's while relying on his teammates to make shots after he passes them the ball. And his teammates play for Rutgers.

All of this highlights the very real possibility that Sanders transfers after the season. While I'd love for him to stay in the Big Ten, it's probably best for Sanders if he goes elsewhere to finish his career. Rutgers will never make the NCAA Tournament while he's in school, and he may never avoid concentrated defensive attention playing for the Scarlet Knights. And there's already been some rough patches.

Sanders hails from Florida so there's no hometown affinity to New Jersey. Thus I would not be shocked to see him finish his career in someplace like the ACC. Keeping Sanders in town might be Eddie Jordan's biggest priority this offseason.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Happ is a redshirt freshman, but a freshman nonetheless. His game is solid across the board, and he excels at rebounding and post moves, particularly around the baseline.



Happ does have a weakness, however—he's an awful jumpshooter. According to hoop-math.com, Happ has made just 4 of his 26 two-point jump shot attempts on the season, and he's yet to attempt a three-pointer. Now, even if Happ just marginally improves his game without developing a jumpshot, he would be a pretty good player.

But it's worth noting that Nigel Hayes never attempted a 3 as a freshman, either. Josh Gasser made 30 percent of his 3s as a freshman, but was a career 40 percent outside shooter. Sure, some guys like Ryan Evans or Greg Stiemsma never developed much of jump shot, but that tends to be the exception in Madison, not the rule.

Of course, now there's a different coach roaming the sidelines, so Happ will make for an interesting test case.

JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State

Lyle's had a very up-and-down season thus far. He opened the season as the team's starting point guard, had a rough December, and then after scoring 45 points in two Big Ten games, he scored 20 points over his next 5, losing his starting spot in the process. Since then, he's scored 43 points over his last two games. In short, you don't know what Lyle is going to give you on any given night.

He's not a very good outside shooter at this stage (27% on 3s for the season) and his decisionmaking as a point guard is very much freshmen-esque. But he's a great passer, draws fouls, and his size and athleticism allow him to convert on 52 percent of his 2s in conference play.



Jalen Coleman-Lands, Illinois
Coleman-Lands deserves to be on this list because of his 40 percent three-point shooting, but that's all he does. He's a poor defender. He's made just 36 percent of his 2s on the year. He has 8 assists in conference play. He's made 12 free throws in conference play. And to confirm that he's not really creating shots for himself, he has just 5 turnovers in conference play. Turnovers are bad, but any player that is counted on to create shots for himself or for his teammates will necessarily accumulate turnovers. The fact that Coleman-Lands is not doing so evinces his lack of playmaking ability. Frankly, from an upside standpoint, I'd rather have the player with lots of turnovers than the player with none. Better to have someone who thinks they can make something happen than the guy who knows there's no point in trying.

The Indiana native was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, so a large sophomore leap should surprise no one. But for that, I would say that JCL has largely maxed out his abilities. It's not like he's going to shoot 50 percent from 3.

Glynn Watson, Nebraska

Throughout his tenure at Nebraska, Tim Miles has struggled to find an adequate point guard. He tried Benny Parker. He tried Deverell Biggs. He's tried Tai Webster and Tarin Smith. Biggs probably came the closest to adequate, but he was dismissed from the program.

Well, Miles needs to search no further, as Illinois native Glynn Watson has come to the rescue. Demetri McCamey's brother doesn't share his last name, nor his game. Even at this stage, McCamey was a superior shooter, though the taller McCamey was oddly a worse two-point shooter as a freshman. McCamey went on to excel on the offensive end, but he was never much of a defensive presence. In contrast, Watson sports one of the Big Ten's best steal rates.

As a 75 percent free throw shooter, I expect Watson's outside shot to come around. I don't know if the assists will ever reach the levels of his older brother, but that might just be Tim Miles' Ballhog Offense at play (Miles' offense is much more reliant on dribble penetration than most, which tends to lower assist rates). But thanks to Watson, point guard is no longer a concern for Nebraska, and it might be paying dividends in lots of ways. Webster, for his part, is flourishing in his role as an off-guard.

Dererk Pardon, Northwestern

Alex Olah is an underrated center that Northwestern would be unable to replace, were it not for Pardon. In conference play, Pardon has made 66 percent of his 2s while rebounding at a high level, eschewing turnovers, and getting to the free throw line with regularity. This is Northwestern, not Kentucky, so suffice to say that a center that can do all of those things—a freshman, to boot—is a near-mythical beast.

So why was Pardon relegated to the role of "bench cheerleader" for Northwestern's first 12 games, while Joey Van Zegeren and Gavin Skelly played with regularity? Science may never know the answer to that, but regardless, the trio of Pardon, Bryant McIntosh, and Aaron Falzon are a good bet to take Northwestern to the Dance at some point in their careers (though probably not this season).

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota

Murphy is an undersized (by height, at least) power forward, and I wonder if that fact affects his game. I don't mean in the conventional sense—Murphy has made 58 percent of his 2s in conference play, so his height doesn't seem to be a problem there. But Murphy is a poor shooter (22 percent of his two-point jumpshots, 60 percent free throw shooter) that has nonetheless attempted 26 three-pointers on the season (making 7).

Murphy's a great rebounder, capable defender, and excellent post scorer. He doesn't need to attempt three-pointers. He should take a page from Jae'Sean Tate and not worry about how tall he is, and make outside shooting an offseason project. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

What's up with Maryland's offense?

With last night's win over Iowa, the Maryland Terrapins find themselves at 7-2 at the halfway point in the conference season. That's not first place, but they're pretty much right there with Iowa and Indiana. But there is something a bit puzzling about this team, specifically, how can a team consisting of Melo Trimble, Robert Carter, Rasheed Sulaimon, Diamond Stone, and Jake Layman sport just the 7th-best offense in the Big Ten?

Well, let's get the low-hanging fruit out of the way. Three-point shooting has been an issue in Big Ten play, with the Terps clocking in at just 31.2 percent from the outside. Yes, Layman and Trimble are a bit colder than usual, but the big outlier is Jared Nickens:


3PA
3PM Percentage
Non-conference
58
43.1
Conference
35
17.1

Suffice to say, that's going to distort things. As a freshman last season, Nickens made 39 percent of his 3s, and he was most accurate in conference play (40 percent). So overall, this seems like a problem that's likely to work itself out. If Nickens can't return to form, that's not insignificant even though he is a role player offensively, and he's basically one-dimensional on that end. There just aren't a lot of players with size that can make 3s, although it's worth noting that Maryland has an embarrassment of riches there. 

So we can chalk up one problem to some cold shooting from one player. But what about shot selection—anything wrong there? According to Shot Analytics, no: 


The Terps have been great about minimizing mid-range attempts, and they've been solid on converting around the hoop. 

So Maryland is shooting the right shots, and they're making (or will start making) the shots they're taking. But unfortunately they're not taking as many shots as they should. Despite the steady hands of Trimble, the Terrapins are turning the ball over on 18 percent of their conference possessions, which is the second-worst mark in the Big Ten (in 2002, that rate would have been the best in the Big Ten. How things have changed). 

One might explain this as simply the price of admission for a team that puts three players standing 6-9 or taller on the floor for the majority of the time. And sure, Layman's turnovers are slightly higher than the team average. And backup center Damonte Dodd is a mess when you ask him to move in space—with or without the ball. 




But I think the bigger issue here is Sulaimon. Your backup center usually isn't going to help keep the turnovers down, and Maryland's big men, in general, are doing relatively well in that department.

But Sulaimon's turnover rate is high, particularly for a non-point guard (18.8 in conference games). He didn't have these issues at Duke, but that was a different offense as well. I don't know if that's the cause, or if it's something else, but Sulaimon needs to be much more reliable with the ball if Maryland's offense is going to reach its potential. That probably does not have to happen for Maryland to win the Big Ten, but I suspect it will if this team wants to still be playing on the final weekend of the season.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Can Iowa keep this up?

Currently, Iowa sits at #2 in the Pomeroy rankings. The team has already swept Michigan State and beat Purdue in West Lafayette by 7. Fran McCaffery's clipboard supply has never been higher.

How did this happen?

The obvious answer is offense, as the Hawkeyes sport the league's best efficiency in conference games. That offense is fueled by a minuscule turnover rate and deadly-accurate three-point shooting.

Will Iowa continue to make 43 percent of its three-pointers? Probably not. I can safely guess that Dom Uhl, in particular, will not keep up his torrid pace of 82 percent on his shots from deep. But there's more to Iowa's shooting success than making 3-pointers:

That's Iowa's shooting accuracy (yellow) and shooting distribution (black) for this season so far in conference games. The team is pretty even across the board, with at-the-rim shots slightly edging out mid-range shots. That's a good thing, even if Iowa is only making 58 percent of it's at-rim shots (which is, generally, slightly below the Division I average).

But those ratios aren't too far off from last season—effectively, 2 percent of what used to be mid-range shots for Iowa are now 3-pointers. So you have slightly better shots being taken by slightly better shooters. The easiest explanation for that is that Mike Gesell used to shoot a lot more than he does now, and the additional shots he used to take weren't all that good:

Of course, this trick only works if there's someone to pick up the slack, and that's been a combination of Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, who collectively attempt nearly two-thirds of Iowa's shots when they're on the floor (which is a lot). And Jok in particular has been excellent in converting his attempts (54.1 eFG in conference play).

(By the way, Jok has scored 77 points in 5 games while committing just 3 turnovers. Why isn't he getting more Player of the Year talk?)

If it isn't clear already, Iowa's offense has only made slight adjustments from last year's version. And that's not too surprising, considering Iowa's offense was really good last year (2nd to Wisconsin's scorched-Earth attack).

But what about defense? Last year's Hawkeyes were 8th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, this year's team is 4th. Can McCaffery's team keep that up?

There, I'm less certain. I do think that Iowa will continue to defend without fouling (this is a consistent strength for McCaffery's teams), but it's the two-point defense that bugs me. Despite a conference-leading block percentage (fueled by Uthoff's conference-leading 18 blocks), Iowa ranks just 8th in two-point defense. That's largely the result of the last two games, where Michigan and Michigan State each made over 55 percent of their 2s. Not coincidentally, Uthoff registered just 3 blocks across those games.

So what did the Spartans and Wolverines do?

Well, the Spartans didn't seem to do a lot, it was really about what Iowa did.

Here's Uthoff guarding Alvin Ellis on a possession Matt Costello scored on.


Here's Uthoff picking up Eron Harris in transition. Costello with another layup.

Here's Uthoff doing some olé defense on a Denzel Valentine layup.
View post on imgur.com


Overall, it just seemed like the gameplan was to protect Uthoff. And hey, he drew one foul, scored 15 points, and Iowa won. So it's hard to fault McCaffery for that. Of course, if they lost, the counterargument is that Uthoff had four fouls to give.

As for Michigan, it's no secret what John Beilein does—he sticks 4 guys out on the perimeter, with one big man in the paint that often comes out to set a ball screen. More times than not, that big man will be guarded by the other team's center (i.e., Adam Woodbury, though sometimes Uhl or Nicholas Baer). With Michigan's dangerous shooters, that means Uthoff has to stay at home.

Examples:
View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com


So it's been a combination of Iowa being cautious and Michigan running its stuff. The good news for Iowa is that there's just one Michigan, the bad news is that there are plenty of other teams with a capable two-point attack. The matchup with Purdue this Sunday looms large for that reason, and also because should Iowa win, it will be extremely difficult to deny the Hawkeyes at least a share of the conference title.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Curious Case of Josh Reaves

Penn State is one of the worst outside shooting teams in the country, and it's basically one person's fault.


Too much of this

Josh Reaves is shooting 9 percent on three-point attempts. That in and of itself is not such a big deal. But coupled with the fact that he's attempted 33 three-pointers to this point (halfway, assuming Penn State plays just one Big Ten Tournament game), it's rather remarkable.

There are plenty of poor outside shooters in college basketball, and many are demonstrably worse than Reaves. But what's hard to find is someone who has been as unsuccessful from deep as Reaves who continues to attempt 3-pointers at a healthy rate. Usually, poor shooters don't take a lot of outside shots. Failing that, once enough shots miss, they slow down. Failing that, the coach stops playing them so much. But Reaves is firmly in Penn State's rotation, logging an average of just under 22 minutes per game on average in PSU's first three conference games.

This tells me two things, namely that neither Josh nor head coach Pat Chambers thinks the inaccuracy is likely to continue. If it did, it would be something of at least recent historic note:

That data comes courtesy of Ken Pomeroy, and shows all of the Division I shooters since 2006 that attempted at least 49 3-pointers and converted on fewer than 20 percent of them. That big blue dot toward the bottom is where Reaves would finish if things continue as they are.

More likely, Reaves will start to see some shots fall, and he'll avoid this infamy. Or he'll stop shooting 3s and/or stop playing as much. I'm not sure which of those is best for Penn State—after all, Reaves only needs to make 15 percent of his 3s (at his current shooting pace) from here on out to avoid finishing last on the list. That's better than 9, but it's not exactly good, either.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Five Questions for Conference Play

Just a handful of meaningful games left before conference play begins on December 29th, but it seems like there's still a lot of uncertainty for this time of year. Here are the five most-pressing questions I have about Big Ten teams:

1. How will Michigan State cope without Valentine?

There are a lot of high-usage players in the Big Ten, to be sure, but no player consumes as many possessions for his team as Denzel Valentine. Not only that, but the senior also happens to be the most efficient player in the Spartans' rotation. There's no one person that can replace Valentine, perhaps in all of college basketball. Certainly there's no one else at Tom Izzo's disposal. So how will the team change?

It won't be a cakewalk over the next couple of weeks, either, as the Spartans will face a Tournament-caliber Oakland team tonight before beginning conference play. The good news is that Valentine should be back before MSU faces either Purdue or Maryland, the would-be challengers to the title, so Izzo's team still figures to be the team to beat.

2. Is Northwestern any good?

The computers haven't liked the Cats this much since the John Shurna/Drew Crawford days. But by the end of January in those seasons, the Cats were staring up at the Big Ten standings, and never reached .500 in conference play. And really, with this year's non-conference schedule (per Pomeroy, one of the 5 easiest non-conference schedules of any power conference team), that is likely a hard requirement for reaching the Dance. That's no small feat at this school—the last time a Northwestern team  went .500 in the Big Ten and also had an overall winning record was 1968.

This year's team seems like it can get there, but it's only played one team in the Pomeroy top-100 (and lost by 11). What's more, three of the cupcakes took the Wildcats to overtime (though two were true road games). On the other hand, Northwestern is uncharacteristically strong on two-point offense and two-point defense, which are difficult things to fake, even this early in the season.

3. How big of an upset will Ohio State's win over Kentucky be come March?

Sure, the Wildcats led a spirited run that brought them to within three points of the Buckeyes, but make no mistake—for much of the game OSU was running a clinic. And it would have been ugly but for what could be the best game of Jamal Murray's brief collegiate career.

Ohio State is one of the youngest teams in all of Division-I, and it's showing in the turnover rate. This is far from scientific, but it makes for a great Hot Take:

Historically (and by that, I mean as far back as Pomeroy has experience data, which is the 2006-07 season) OSU has minimized turnover problems when the experience has been 1.5 seasons (weighted for playing time). Between 1.0 and 1.5 has been a mixed bag, and 1.0 and below (this season is the upper left) have been problematic. Maybe this is a real trend, maybe not, but turnovers are clearly the weak link of this team. We saw how good the Buckeyes can be when they take care of the basketball—if they keep doing that, the Kentucky win could bolster the case for a protected seed, rather than for a spot in the play-in game.

4. Will anyone counter Purdue's skyline defense?

Purdue is the tallest (by Effective Height) team in the country that does not feature a 7-6 player in the rotation, and the two-point defense speaks to that. The Boilermakers are holding opponents to just 36.7 percent shooting inside the arc, which is bolstered by the fact that Purdue's overplay defenses generally encourages more 2s. Indeed, teams are not shooting many 3s against Purdue, nor making them (27.3 percent).

In Purdue's sole loss, Butler managed to eclipse the PPP mark not just by minimizing turnovers (which is no great feat against Purdue), but also by drawing plenty of fouls (though oddly, not against the big men). The good news for Purdue is that the only team that fits that profile in the Big Ten is Minnesota, and I don't think the Gophers are up to the task.

5. How different will Greg Gard's Badgers look? 

There's no way to sugarcoat this—it is highly unlikely Gard will be able to replace Bo Ryan. I say that as no slight to Gard, but as a compliment to Bo. Prior to Ryan, Wisconsin had 6 seasons since 1960 with an above-.500 winning percentage in the Big Ten. Bo did that in each of his 14 seasons in Madison. Mike Krzyzewski gets a lot of deserved praise for building the Duke program into the monster it is today, but even before Coach K arrived, Duke was perennially an ACC power (albeit not an annual national title contender).

Wisconsin, on the other hand, was a basement-dweller of the Big Ten. For example, between 1981 and 1988, the team finished no better than 6-12 in conference play, winning a total of 34 Big Ten games across 8 seasons. There's simply no precedent for the transformation of the program under Ryan.

Having been Bo's assistant for 23 years, it's hard to imagine that we're going to see a brand new style of play that's been repressed by Gard for over two decades. It will likely be the same 4-out, 1-in triangle set offense, and a strong rebounding defense that encourages long 2s. But just because Wisconsin will continue to try to do the same things does not mean it will achieve them as it did under Ryan. That's where Gard will have to show he's worthy of removal of the "interim" label.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bo Hasn't Checked Out Already, Has He?

After Wisconsin's second embarrassing home loss this season, it's time to start taking seriously the idea that the Badgers are not a Tournament-caliber team. I'm not there yet, but I do think something is rotten in Madison right now:


This is no way to run an offense, which is certainly not news to Bo Ryan. For one, his offenses have eschewed midrange basketball before it was cool. And lest you think he just shows up to church on Christmas and Easter, the guy's defense is built around suckering teams into taking midrange shots.

So I'm sure it pains him more than anyone else to see his own team feasting on mid-range jumpshots. It's hard to blame any one guy for a seismic shift such as this one. That said, Vitto Brown played 33 minutes last night, but that might not continue for much longer if he continues shooting like this:


The only shot he appears to be competent at converting happens to be a bad one, which might explain why he takes so many of them.