Paul Jesperson and the Hoos head to his home state to take on Wisconsin.
After a convincing 80-64 home victory over a solid North Texas squad, the Virginia Cavaliers (4-2) hit the road to square off against Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Will the Wahoos win their third straight Challenge game and fourth straight overall, or will they fall to Bo Ryan’s Badgers at the Kohl Center? Find out in the Wisconsin Primer.
1. Team Introduction. Last season, Wisconsin finished 26-10 (12-6 in the Big Ten), with 2 of those wins coming in the NCAA Tournament before the Badgers suffered a heartbreaking 64-63 loss to Syracuse in the Sweet 16. That 12-6 mark was good for 4th place in the Big Ten, with the Badgers finishing among the top 4 in that conference in each of Bo Ryan’s 11 years guiding the team. Simply put, Bo knows basketball. Ryan took over as Wisconsin’s head coach the season following the retirement of Dick Bennett, the father of current UVa coach Tony Bennett. The younger Bennett then coached under Ryan before heading to Pullman when his father took the head coaching position at Washington State.
Wisconsin has been tabbed to finish 5th in the Big 10 this year. On the season, they’re 4-2, blowing out Southeastern Louisiana (87-47) and Presbyterian (88-43), riding a second half comeback to a 77-70 win over Arkansas, and dropping games against top 15 foes Florida (74-56) and Creighton (84-74).
2. Offense. Bo Ryan is the progenitor of the swing offense, which he developed at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he guided the Pioneers to four NCAA Division III titles. The swing offense is a “4-out, 1-in” motion offense that highly values versatility and patience. The key to the offense is getting the ball into the low post, with the ball then being moved around through a variety of screens and quick passes rather than dribble drive penetration. What puts the “swing” in the swing offense is the quick swing pass among players on the perimeter before a series of screens frees a player for an open shot. This is illustrated in a series of diagrams from Jes Basketball, including this one showing the swing:
Most of the players in the swing offense are expected to be able to both post up and hit the 3-point shot. Expect Ryan’s team to attack the Pack-Line with a series of skip passes, a strategy that has proven effective for Brad Brownell’s Clemson teams the last few seasons. They say it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing … well, Ryan’s team have got it in abundance. Two years ago, the Badgers were No. 2 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, last year, they were No. 18, and they currently rank No. 9.
3. Defense. Bo Ryan teams are known for their rugged man-to-man defense. The differences between the Pack-Line and Ryan’s man defense were best explained by Luke Winn in a terrific piece back in May. Ryan’s defense is more of an extended man defense that is designed to prevent 3-point attempts and force opposing players into taking mid-range jumpers. Ryan himself estimates that his players go “over 90 percent of screens to avoid as many pull-up threes as possible.”
Indeed, Ryan’s teams avoid 3-point attempts, period. Last year, they were No. 1 in the country in percentage of opponent jumpers that were 3-point attempts (45.9%). By contrast, that percentage for UVa last year was 61.2%, with the goal of the pack-it-in Pack-Line being to make opposing players think that they have an open 3-pointer but then disturb the attempt through recovery and closing out.
One thing that both defenses are designed to do is force the opposing team into poor field goal attempts late in the shot clock rather than force turnovers. The Hoos are currently No. 115 in the country in opponent turnovers per offensive play while Wisconsin is No. 180. Given UVa’s turnover issues, the nature of Wisconsin’s defense (and the return of Jontel Evans ) should help the offense a great deal. After finishing last season No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency, Wisconsin currently stands at No. 21 this year, and I would attribute the drop-off mainly to turnover and injury at the guard positions.
4. Player Turnover. A few players from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team won’t see the floor against UVa on Wednesday. Senior guard Jordan Taylor, who led last year’s Badgers in points (14.8), assists (4.1), and steals (1.0) per game, is currently lacing them up for Vitrus Roma. His backcourt running mate, Josh Gasser , is out for the season with a torn ACL. Last season, Gasser shot a team-high 45.2% from behind the arc and 46.4% from the field while finishing second on the team in assists per game (1.9) and fourth on the team in points per game (7.6). The Badgers also saw the graduation of Rob Wilson, who was seventh on last year’s team in both minutes (13) and points (4) per game.
5. Likely Starters. The players on the floor at tip-off figure to be the following …
Point Guard: With Gasser’s injury, George Marshall (No. 3), a 5’11”, 185-pound freshman, has started the Badgers’ first five games at point guard. Marshall is a point guard in the Sammy Zeglinski mold as he’s really more of a shooter than a distributor (he’s averaging 1.5 assists against 1.2 turnovers per game). He’s especially good at launching 3-pointers off of high screens, hitting on 40% of his 5 attempts per game. The fact that 5 of his 6 field goal attempts per game come from behind the arc tells you he’s not yet comfortable driving the lane, and, on the other end, he’s made some bad decisions on defensive switches and been caught “off guard” defending high ball screens. As with most freshman point guards, his level of play will develop in fits and starts. He’s averaging 7.3 points per game in 25 minutes per game but played a season-low 16 minutes and scored a season-low 3 points in the Badgers’ last game against the Razorbacks.
Shooting Guard: Joining Marshall in the backcourt should be Ben Brust (No. 1), a 6’1″, 195-pound junior. Brust was seen mainly as a 3-point shooter coming into this season as 4.1 of his 6.4 attempts from the field during his sophomore campaign were 3-point attempts. The 3-ball is still a big part of Brust’s arsenal. On the season, he’s averaging 4.7 3-point attempts per game and connecting on an outstanding 46.4% of them. But he’s also averaging 5.8 shots per game from inside the arc, although he is only hitting on 34.3% of these attempts. Still, that’s good for 11.8 points per game and an effective field goal percentage of 50%. He’s also increased his assists per game from .7 last year to 2.2 this year. That said, the biggest improvement in Brust has come from the weight room. Brust dedicated himself in the offseason to becoming cut, and, combined with a bit of a mean streak, he’s pulling down rebounds at an astonishing clip of 8.5 per game. The one thing that Brust needs to prove is that he can perform against better competition. Against the only three good teams that Wisconsin has faced, Brust is averaging a mere 6.3 points per game on 21.9% shooting (23% from behind the arc).
Small Forward: At the “3,” Ryan Evans (No. 5), a 6’6″, 212-pound redshirt senior, should get the starting nod like he did all of last season. Evans is a bit of a chucker. He leads the team with 10.8 shots per game but is only fourth in points per game (10.5). That’s because he’s shooting only 40% from the field, a paltry 9.1% on 1.8 3-point attempts per game, and a pitiful 38.5% from the free throw line (which is considerably below his career average). He also leads the Badgers with 2 turnovers per game. Defensively, Evans is a very good on-the-ball defender and averages 7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a block per game. Off the ball, however, he too often loses his defensive assignment.
Power Forward: Mike Bruesewitz, a 6’6″, 223-pound senior affectionately known as “Bruiser,” should be in for the opening tip. After suffering a severe laceration on his lower right leg during a team workout in October, Bruiser has returned to play in all six of the Badgers’ games, starting the last four of them. Bruiser is, well, a bruiser. In his last two games, he fouled out in 9 minutes against Creighton and had four fouls in 29 minutes against Arkansas. As an undersized “4,” everything’s difficult down low for Bruiser. He’s hit a total of 5 two-point shots in 5 games, which tells you that he actually has some touch from behind the arc, where he’s connecting on 37.5% of his attempts, allowing him to score 6.2 points per game. The next block that Bruiser records will be his first on the season, and he often struggles against bigger, more athletic opponents.
Center: Wisconsin’s best player is Jared Berggren (No. 40), a 6’10”, 235-pound senior. Berggren leads the Badgers in a number of statistical categories, including points per game (15.2), shooting percentage (55.25%), and blocks per game (2.5). Berggren is also second on the team in rebounds per game (7.2) and is shooting a terrific 84.6% from the free throw line. I will agree with this assessment from the Wisconsin Badgers’ website: “Possessing a versatile offensive game, Berggren has UW’s best array of interior post-moves since Mike Wilkinson, but also has the ability to step outside and knock down shots.” Berggren is also a defensive menace in the paint and will be a matchup problem for Virginia’s smaller (Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins ) and younger (Mike Tobey ) bigs.
6. Key Reserves. Some of Wisconsin’s key bench players include …
Combo Guard: Traevon Jackson (No. 12), a 6’2″, 213-pound sophomore, sees 20 minutes of action per game for Wisconsin. Jackson is basically the only Badger who tries to penetrate, and it has led to him dishing 2.2 dimes a game. Offensively, Jackson has significantly improved his scoring output from 1.1 to 5.3 points per game, but he’s not very efficient. He’s averaging a mere 38.5% from the field and a worse 25% from 3-point range. Defensively, Jackson is good on the ball and has shown a willingness to fight through screens, but he’s not that fleet of foot and is sometimes slow on rotations.
Forward: Like most of the Wisconsin faithful, I’m really high on Sam Dekker (No. 15), a 6’7″, 220-pound freshman. Dekker is averaging 19.8 minutes and 11.5 points per game and seemed to have a breakout game in his last outing against Arkansas, registering career-highs in minutes (26) and points (19 on 7-13 shooting). The usual caveats about freshman apply to Dekker, his defense hasn’t yet caught up to his offense, and he’s averaging only 2.5 rebounds per game. That said, Dekker is already adept at creating his own shot and can score from anywhere on the floor: He’s shooting 53.2% from the field and 50% from 3-point range on 3.3 attempts per game. If this game were being held next spring, I would be really worried about containing Dekker. As things stand now, he’s still a very dangerous player.
Forward/Center: Frank Kaminsky (No. 44), a 6’11”, 230-pound sophomore, has seen spot duty for the Badgers to the tune of 12 minutes per game. Kaminsky isn’t much more than a warm body who can spell Wisconsin’s other bigs for a few minutes a game. He’s gotten a total of 14 minutes of playing time in Wisconsin’s last 2 games, and 10 of his 16 points on the season came against Presbyterian.
7. Prediction. We can safely assume at least one thing about this game: It will be one the slowest paced Division I games of the year, if not the slowest. Virginia is No. 345 (out of 347 teams) in the country in adjusted tempo while Wisconsin is No. 340.
Reviewing what I’ve written about this year’s Badgers team and what I have seen from them so far, this is not a vintage Bo Ryan team. Still, this is an NCAA Tournament caliber team and a squad that is always tough to beat at home. I’m especially worried about Berggren, the Badgers’ 3-point shooting, and their offensive rebounding, which is ranked No. 31 in the country. Sabre Poster 504-C Brandon has this as a 59.2-45.1 Wisconsin win, with the Badgers having an 89.2% chance of winning. Meanwhile, the Team Rankings Simulation has this as a 71.8-55.7 Wisconsin win.
I like our chances to keep it closer than these projections, but I don’t think we have quite enough experience to trudge up to Madison and grind out a win. I will call this a 53-46 Wisconsin win and a good learning experience for the team going forward.