It's Broken, But Fixable

The two takeaways from Ohio State's shellacking of Wisconsin at the Kohl Center are

  1. Ohio State is probably better than you thought; and
  2. Wisconsin is not very good right now.

On (1), I'm not completely surprised, given Chris Holtmann's track record. This post could have easily been about how well-prepared Ohio State was for this game, but I have only so much time and these garbage takes don't write themselves.

On (2), I expected Wisconsin to take a step back this season, but what we saw this weekend was beyond the pale. The Badgers were annihilated in every phase of the game. Sure, they missed some open shots and Ohio State made seemingly just about everything, but that cannot explain all of it. Something's broken in Madison, to a degree we've not seen in a very long time.

Today, I'll focus on the offense. For those that have not seen a Wisconsin game in like 25 years or so, the Badgers run the swing offense. Yes, it's been modified and tweaked over the years as its evolved to changing defenses and the abilities of the players, but at its core, it's a swing offense.

What is a swing offense? Basically, this:

There's a triangle on the ball side and two players on the weak side that are cutting off each other. Sometimes they move from center/wing to center/corner, but it's the same basic idea—give the man in the middle space to operate, and dissuade double teams by putting the other 4 players in spaced-out positions on the perimeter where they can have an open shot if their man chooses to abandon them.

What it's supposed to look like

Granted, this is kind of cheating because I'm pulling clips from the Kaminsky years. Scheme is nice and all, but most coaches will take their chances with NBA talent, thank you very much. Still, it's worth noting that although these teams were talented, they were surely not the most talented team in the country, and yet this was the best offense in the country across those two seasons.

In this first clip, Gasser sets a screen for a player (Duje Dukan) that isn't cutting. But he's not counting on Dukan to cut, he's counting on the defense to run into him as the ball...swings to the other side of the court. The defender never realizes he's about to be screened, and Dukan not only gets an open shot, but it's an open shot where he isn't coming off a dead sprint, ala the conventional screen & shoot.

The next clip is to show that it's not just about getting the ball into the post, or even exploiting a double team. Sometimes it's simply about cutting hard (and a lot), and penalizing the defense for hesitating on those cuts. If this offense is being run correctly, as a defender, you need to have your head on a swivel.

What it looks like now

This is a young team that Gard has, so it's understandable that it's miles behind where that 2015 team was. But right now, they're not getting the spacing right. In this first clip from Saturday, Brevin Pritzl is just sort of hanging out in the paint. He should be on the weak side center/wing, but instead is just clogging up the paint. That allows Ohio State to double team without penalty, as Jae'Sean Tate can guard both Pritzl and the cutting Kobe King, who are close enough to share a high-five.

In this next clip, the Badgers once again leave that spot empty and end up with too many players in the paint, which is really the opposite of what this offense is trying to do. Also, Davison has a difficult time getting in position to make the post feed, and Happ is nearly at the three-point line when he does get the ball. This is a mess.

This last one, I'll admit, might not be a mistake. Well, I'm guessing the phantom screening happening away from the ball is not really supposed to happen, but over the years one of the wrinkles Ryan added was post isolation for his better post players. And Ethan Happ certainly qualifies. But generally, when that happened, it was because there was an existing mismatch to exploit, and although he's a freshman, the 6-9, 270 pound Kaleb Wesson is not too small to guard Happ.

The other thing to note is the action at the top of the key. Both King and Pritzl are fighting their instinct to run toward the ball and into the paint, which of course would simply free their defenders to focus on Happ with little penalty. Ideally, these players are making themselves available for a catch and shoot.

OK, so why is this fixable?

The good news is that Gard is not trying anything vastly different. Is it different at all? Sure. There seems to be a bit more use of the pick and roll not merely as a means to get into the set, but as the set itself, for instance. But structurally, the elements are there. The problem is players standing around, or not being where they are supposed to.

Frankly, that's the good news. Bad news would have been if Gard was trying something completely new and untested, and it simply was not working. That would be a problem with the entire premise of the offense, and that's difficult to fix without a large infusion of talent.

But execution? That's imminently fixable. But in order to salvage this season, it needs to get fixed, and soon.