Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Troubling Statistic

Much has been written about the Badgers' shooting woes. But in fact their field goal shooting percentages (34.9% from three and 48.6% from two) are in line with historical averages. For example, their averages last year were 36.8% and 46.5% from three and two, respectively, and 37.4% and 48.9% the year before. So the threes are down a little, but not dramatically. What is going on?

Unsurprisingly, the answer is free throw shooting. Wisconsin shoots an abysmal 60.8% from the line, and in conference play it is even worse: 51.9%. To make matters worse, the Badgers have a hard time even getting to the line. This year their free throw rate (FGA / FTA) is just 28.2%, which is the worst in the Bo Ryan era. (Compare that rate to the rate in Alando Tucker's heyday with the Badgers: 44.9%.) Some of us remember when a hallmark of Bo's teams was to make more free throws than the other team attempts. Those days are over, and they have been for a while.

Indeed, when you combine the Badgers' terrible free throw shooting with their inability to get to the line, you get a very troubling statistic: the Badgers get just 14.6% of their points from the charity stripe. That's the third-lowest in the country, ahead of only winless Grambling (one of the worst D-1 teams ever) and Mount St. Mary's. And it's a stat that has been going steadily for the Badgers since they peaked at 23.1% in 2006-07.

Of course, it is possible to play good offense without getting to the line much. Michigan does it, for example. But getting to the line and making free throws was part of the Bo Ryan offensive formula, and it's an ingredient that has just gone missing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Did Kentucky get their signature win?

I was going to entitle this post are AP voters really this stupid, but the answer to that is too obvious. Kentucky got a much needed win tonight on the road against #16th ranked Ole Miss. Kentucky's best win on the year before tonight was a neutral site win against fellow bubble team Maryland. Kentucky has 6 losses already but more importantly they haven't beaten anyone. They don't have any bad losses, but they only have 2 remaining games against ranked teams because the SEC sucks this year. Kentucky is probably too talented and too well coached to not win enough games to make the tourney, but stranger things have happened. Kentucky is probably on the outside of the bubble right now so they needed this win, but is this really a signature win that anyone should care about?

This leads me back to those AP writers. How on earth did they vote that Ole Miss team to be #16? They certainly didn't look like a good team watching them tonight. Even if they had passed the eyeball test you still have to look at the numbers. Here are a few:

Ole Miss only played one major conference team in preseason- a home win against Rutgers.

Despite playing all preseason cupcakes Ole Miss lost 2 games to Middle Tennessee, and Indiana State.

Ole Miss plays up tempo and is 5th in the nation in scoring at 80.3 per game, but somehow is only 144th in assists at 13.3/game. They also only shoot 44.3% on FG.

Ole Miss has one quality win on the year at home against Missouri. They were 6-0 prior to tonight in conference, but that included 2 wins vs 11-8 Tenn, 2 wins vs 8-11 teams Auburn and Vanderbilt (in OT), and their 2nd best win against Arkansas who is 12-7 and NIT bound.

OSU thoughts

While the story of this loss will certainly be a familiar one, poor shooting, I sure liked watching Deshaun Thomas. Mostly because of the way he responded to the slow start. Bucky was looking good early and Thomas was taking and missing tough shots. 4 of his first 5 shots were contested jumpers and he missed all 4 (his lone make was driving layup). However from that point on Thomas did what all great scorers do when they are struggling, he got to the paint. He got there over and over. Mind you these were not easy layups, but he got himself close in attempts and got himself going. His next 5 FG attempts were all in the paint and all makes (he did get 3 free throws off a 3 point attempt Evans foolishly fouled him on). From his last missed jumper at the 14:07 mark in the first half Thomas went 7-7 until finally missing another jumper at the 9 minute mark in the 2nd half. Thomas made a couple jumpers in the 2nd half, including one ridiculous one over Evans who played him about as well as anyone could. Overall he was 10-17 for 25 points and had 4 assists. In a game in which OSU only scored 58, Thomas was dominant.

Could the Badgers have guarded him differently? Sure, but that would have left them exposed in other areas. I have a hard time criticizing the strategy, but it will be interesting to see if Bo makes adjustments for the rematch in Madison. It's not like Thomas was getting uncontested layups, he was making tough shots. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a great player having a great performance.

Shooting again is the difference. At least free throws didn't cost them the game. Evans is getting worse and worse as he went 1-10 tonight with 3 turnovers. Through the Badgers 4-0 start Evans shot a more than respectable 20-39. Over the last 4 games Evans has gone 9-39 and the Badgers have gone 1-3. I don't think Evans is going to stop shooting, so the Badgers only hope is that he starts making them like he did in the first 4 games. To his credit he has not let the poor offensive showings effect his defense. He routinely matches up on the opponents best forward, and he is rebounding the ball very well.

I like the way Jackson is coming on. He still struggles with his handle, and he had 3 more turnovers tonight. What I like is his shot. He has hit the elbow jumper off the dribble consistently all year, but now he is getting to the rim on occasion. Mostly what I like is his 3 point shot. Early in the year it seemed to take forever for him to get the shot off, and it looked there was a hitch. Now he is letting it go with confidence. The speed of the release looks much quicker and the hitch is gone. My guess is they were both caused by hesitation about taking the shot. Now that he's more comfortable and has seen some go through the net the shot looks much better.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Freshman Fifteen

There are at least two remarkable aspects of his year's Badgers basketball team:

1) Freshmen—specifically Sam Dekker and George Marshall—are playing a large role in the offense; and

2) The team is not a very good shooting team.

Another remarkable fact is that these first two facts are completely unrelated, because the two freshmen are the best shooters on the team. Dekker leads the team with an effective field goal percentage of 57.7% and Marshall is second at 55.8%. The primary reason they lead the team in eFG% is that they lead the team in three-point shooting percentage: Dekker's 3P% is 42.3 and Marshall's is 43.8. Brust is next best at 38.8%. Other than Kaminsky (who shoots 40.9% but has attempted just 22 threes), no one on the team is shooting even a respectable percentage. Berggren's current slump has him all the way down to 28.3%; Bruesewitz hits 30.9%; and Ryan Evans shoots ... well, it's not pretty.

In the Bo Ryan era, just seven Badgers have hit fifteen or more three-pointers in their freshman season. They are:

Devin Harris, 59-161, 36.6%
Sam Dekker, 30-71, 42.3%
George Marshall, 28-64, 43.8%
Jason Bohannon, 27-74, 36.5%
Josh Gasser, 19-63, 30.2%
Mike Wilkinson, 18-54,  33.3%
Alando Tucker, 18-58, 31%

As you can see, Dekker and Marshall so far are shooting a far better percentage than any of the previous freshmen who contributed significantly. (Note also that, other than Gasser, all of the other players on the list played their freshman season with a shorter three-point line.) This is encouraging, because freshmen almost always get better, particularly at shooting. Indeed, Harris, Bohannon, Wilkinson, and Tucker all shot better as seniors than they did as freshmen, and Gasser shot 45.2% from three last year (his sophomore season) before getting injured before this year.

I am looking forward to four years of Sam and George dropping bombs from three-point range. In fact, I have this strange hope that one of them might pull a "Jon Bryant" in the NCAA tournament. But more about that in a future post.

For completeness' sake, here is the data I compiled on freshmen shooting the three in the Bo Ryan Era:

2012-13 (so far)
Dekker 30-71, .423
Marshall 28-64, .438
Showalter 2-9, .222
Total: 60-144, .417

Kaminsky 10-35, .286
Anderson 0-1
Smith 1-1
Jackson 3-8
Total: 14-45 .311

Gasser 19-63, .302
Brust 2-10
Total: 21-73 .288

Brueswitz 0-8
Berggren 1-1
Evans 1-5
Total: 2-14 .142

Rob Wilson 4-14
Jordan Taylor 5-26
Total: 9-40 .225

Jon Leuer 12-26, .462
Jarmusz 2-5, .4
Brett Valentyn 0-1
Total 14-42 .333

----------------> New 3-pt line

Hughes 6-18 .333
Bohannon 27-74 .365
Total 33-92, .359

Krabby 8-29 .276
Landry 4-11 .364
Devin Barry 0-2
Daaron Williams 1-5
Total: 14-47, .276

Butch 8-25, .32
Flowers 6-17, .353
Bronson 0-1
Total: 14-43, .326

Kam Taylor 2-8 .250

Tucker 18-58 .31
Helmigk 1-2 .50
Emerson 0-1
Chappel 1-1
Nixon 0-8
Total 20-70 .284

Harris 59-161 .366
Wilkinson 18-54 .333
Neil Plank 4-18 .222
Hanson 2-9 .222
Total: 83-242, .343

The 15-make club:
Harris, 59-161, 36.6% (Jr: 37.3%)
Dekker, 30-71, 42.3%
Marshall, 28-64, 43.8%
Bohannon, 27-74, 36.5% (Sr: 38.9%)
Gasser, 19-63, 30.2%
Wilkinson, 18-54,  33.3% (Sr: 37%)
Tucker, 18-58, 31% (Sr: 32.5%)

Other notables:
Butch, 8-25, 32% (Sr: 30.9%)
Leuer, 12-26, 46.1% (Sr: 37%)
Krabby, 8-29, 27.6% (Sr: 36.4%)
Jordan Taylor, 5-26, 19.2% (Sr.: 36.9%)
Kaminsky, 10-35, 28.6%
Hanson 2-9, 22.2% (Sr.: 45.5%)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sometimes no one deserves to win.

I'm going to take the same attitude that I took about MSU, as I did about PSU and Nebraska. UW outplayed MSU, but they are just not a good enough shooting team to beat them the way the did PSU and Nebraska. UW was +7 in offensive rebounds and +1 in turnovers in this game. They had 7 more field goal attempts and 6 more free throw attempts than MSU. That should equal a win, especially when you hold your opponent to 38% shooting. It's just going to be tough for this team to string together wins unless they find some magic shooting fairy dust.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

revisiting MI vs OSU

The MI offense has only been stopped cold in one game this year, at OSU. It is their only loss, and OSU held their phenomenal offense to a season low 53 points. 9 points lower than their 2nd lowest output of 62 against a slow paced Nebraska team, and 14 points lower than their 3rd lowest output of 67. How did they do it? First a word about the MI offense.

The MI offense is amazing. They are 11th in the NCAA in scoring at 79.3 points per game, and they are 4th in the NCAA in field goal percentage at .510. All of this is done without a big man in the middle who gets them easy points or gets post feeds out to their prolific shooters. What's quite interesting is that MI doesn't even try to post the ball at all in their offense. The MI offense is based on having 4 players who can all shoot, drive, and get out in transition. The offense runs through Burke who is awesome at both creating for himself and for others, but the key is having all 4 guys with multiple tools. The 5th man (either Jordan Morgan or Mitch McGary) is there to play post defense, rebound, and set screens. If the center scores, it's usually because their man goes to help and they are left alone or the help leaves them with no one blocking them out on put backs.

The personnel here is what matters as MI has not had 4 players like this in the Beilein era. They all shoot the 3 -Burke .400, Hardaway .393, Stauskas .495, and Robinson .389. All are athletic and can drive and dunk in the half court or in transition. Because each can drive the ball they can beat their man and force help which allows them to pass to any other open player who can take advantage by either knocking down the 3 or driving the ball again. They transition as quick as any team in basketball off missed shots. Burke is the key in transition as he sees the floor so well and gets the ball where it needs to be. However because all 4 can handle the ball any of them can start the break and get them easy offense in transition. So how did OSU do it, and can anyone else repeat?
The answer starts with transition defense. OSU did a great job getting back in transition D and more importantly they limited the chances MI had. In the first half OSU shot 52%, grabbed 4 offensive rebounds, and had only 4 turnovers. This limited the opportunities for MI to run, and when they did OSU was great at beating them back. OSU was not as good in the 2nd half because they didn't shoot as well (34.8%), giving MI more opportunities. Still they only had 4 2nd half turnovers which helped limit the transition chances.
The second part of the equation is doubling. Since MI was forced to play a lot of half court basketball they ran a lot of their base offense which is ball screens for their numerous playmakers. Either Morgan or McGary was the screener and every time they ran the ball screen both OSU defenders left the screener and doubled the ball. This put pressure on the ball handler, and often forced them to make a pass out of the double. MI was horrible at this. Either the 5 man was in bad position or the pass was off over and over again which lead to 9 first half turnovers for MI. This was out of character as MI only averages 9.8 turnovers a game. MI again was better in the second half, and had a more normal 4 turnovers.
The final piece is that MI was just bad that day. MI has faced doubles on screens before but you wouldn't have known it the way they played them in the first half. OSU may be more able to run doubles effectively as OSU is longer and more athletic than most teams in college basketball and has some premiere perimeter defenders in Craft, Scott, and Smith Jr. However MI was also just making silly mistakes they don't normally make. MI was just off shooting the ball, which is no surprise for a big ten team playing on the road. They shot 38.3% for the game.
Can anyone repeat what OSU did? Maybe. MSU has enough athletes to do some of the same things, and MI could have another off shooting day at MSU. Outside of that game, UW may have the best chance to hold the score low with tempo, but MI will probably torture our young guards and turnovers may be a problem. I think teams that can beat MI are probably teams that will try to outscore them. In the Big Ten Indiana is probably the only team that has the horses to run with them.
Still, even with this horrible performance MI was able to get the game tied with 6 minutes left in the game after being down 20 points in the first half. OSU hit 3 shots to get back out to a 6 point lead while MI missed 5 straight 3 point attempts. MI got hosed on a horrible call when Burke stole the ball and got fouled while making a layup, but the ref incorrectly called the foul on the floor. MI got 2 free throws on the next possession and got another steal and breakaway dunk to cut the lead to 52-50. With 15 seconds left Burke missed the 6th three point attempt of the final 6 minutes on a shot that hit the inside of the rim twice before popping out, and would have given MI the lead. After 2 made OSU free throws Burke would miss another 3, before hitting one with 1 second remaining to reach the final score of 56-53. MI finished the 2nd half 3-14 from 3. This may be the most interesting fact of the game: Despite playing their worst offensive game of the year, on the road vs a top 15 big ten team, MI still had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds.
This is a good basketball team.

Can good basketball sell?

Wanted to post this great article on ESPN about the NBA and the lack of big time individual scorers.

The gist is that the rule changes from a few years back that allowed zone defenses and more help defense have changed the game but not the overall scoring. Teams have to pass the ball instead of letting a star get the ball on a wing and go one on one on a clear out. This emphasises shooting and ball movement over breaking down defenders off the dribble to get to the rim or free throw line.

This is a good change for people like me who like watching good basketball, but maybe not for the NBA, whose business model is based on marketing stars. Increased assists for the best players just don't draw the attention of casual fans who only look at the easiest stat to understand- scoring numbers. Fewer players that put up big scoring numbers means fewer marketable stars that are billed in the nightly matchups. There will still be some of the Lebron vs Kobe games, but there will be fewer of the secondary stars that casual fans will still come out to see.

Will this trend last? My hope is yes, but my guess is no. The rules haven't hurt any major playoff matchups yet as the Lakers, Celtics and Heat (all major markets) have all been to the finals of late which the league loves. The league is flush with marketable stars right now in Kobe, Lebron, Durant, Melo, etc. but if this trend continues who will be the stars of the future to market 7-10 years from now. Will people pay to go see the marquee NBA matchup of two players who average 18 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds?

There may be more rule changes in the coming years.

Anyone surprised by that loss?

If you are, you haven't been watching this Badger team, and you may have drank the kool-aid after the Indiana win. This is a young team that will have games like this where too many mistakes cost them a win. Losing the turnover battle 12-7 was the key stat. UW just doesn't lose turnover battles like that very often. Give both UW and Iowa some nice credit in this one. After being down 20 in the first half UW kept battling and got themselves back in the game late in the 2nd half. Iowa, who starts 3 freshman, kept their cool when UW made the charge. Iowa didn't turn the ball over against pressure and the made 17-21 2nd half free throws.

Couldn't help but think back to the UW vs Iowa game Jan 21, 2009 that UW lost in overtime 73-69 when another freshman point guard had a break out game. In that game Jordan Taylor had career highs in points (10) and minutes played (20), and hit a deep 3 with 1 second left to send the game to overtime. That was the game you could see Taylor's potential for stardom. Marshall completely took over this game in the closing minutes scoring 20 points (on 7-10 shooting, 3-4 from 3, 3-3 FT). He also chipped in an assist and 0 turnovers.

I discussed a theory with Bart earlier this week that when judging young players you should look at them when they are at their best. This was a pretty good display by Marshall. Hopefully he continues to grow and earn more minutes.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Beating No. 2 on the Road—An Investigation

Wisconsin's win over Indiana in Bloomington the other night was one of the greatest wins in program history. Never before had the Badgers beaten a team ranked as high as No. 2 on the road. Offhand, I can think of only three definitively better wins: the two wins over OSU when they were ranked No. 1 (in 1962 and 2011) and the win over Purdue to advance to the Final Four in 2000.

But it is also one of the great wins for any program over the last several years. Teams ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll almost never lose at home. Indeed, according to my research, the AP No. 2 was 188-5 at home over the six seasons between 2006-07 and 2011-12. The five losses were:

12/2/2007 — #8 Texas* beat UCLA
12/29/2008 — #11 Georgetown beat UCONN
2/14/2010 — Louisville (unranked) beat Syracuse
1/22/2011 — #10 Texas beat Kansas
1/24/2011 — #15 Notre Dame beat Pitt

[*This Texas team, which eventually lost in the Elite 8, lost in Austin a few weeks later to Michael Flowers and the Wisconsin Badgers. It was the Longhorns' only home loss that year.]

Although No. 2 lost at home only five times in the six years I looked at, it also happened twice in three days in January 2011. Gotta love sports.

Over the same six seasons, the AP No. 1 team lost at home just four times:

2/23/2008 — #2 Tennessee beat Memphis
1/4/2009 — Boston College (unranked) beat North Carolina
1/21/2009 — Virginia Tech (unranked) beat Wake Forest
2/16/2009 — #4 Pitt beat UCONN (in Hartford, so not true home)

Again, although it happened only four times total, it also happened three times in six weeks during the 2008-09 season. Gotta love sports.

Overall, teams ranked in the AP top two lost at home just nine times over the previous six seasons.

Make it ten.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

something to do on a sick day

I've been laying around sick all day today and can't sleep so I watched the Indiana game again.

My fascination with defending ball screens continues. UW doesn't have a strict rule on this front anymore. As I have discussed before, UW has gone from a team that always fought over ball screens, to a team that always switched on ball screens, to now a team that does both. The question is why. The problem with not doing it the same way all time is that players can get confused, and have miscommunications which lead to breakdowns. The advantage is that your defense is more flexible to adjust to certain types of players strengths. Does Bo trust his players more?

For example: vs Indiana UW switched on most ball screens, except when Jordan Hulls had the ball. Hulls is an exceptional shooter so UW didn't want to give him open looks from deep. Every time Jackson or Marshall was on him they used their quickness to get over the top on screens to bother him and force him to dribble toward the hoop and into defensive help. I counted 4 occasions when Brust was guarding him that Brust went underneath or switched. On 2 of those a foul occurred and another Hulls hit a jumper.

A few signs this is not your father's Badgers anymore.

The Badgers had 7 different players score by the 10 minute mark of the first half vs Indiana. Having a bunch of guys who are not afraid to shoot, even in a game as intimiidating as at #2 Indiana is pretty awesome. Gone are the days of Jason Chappell standing alone at the free throw line with the ball looking confused. As my cowriter Bart pointed out on Berggen's 1st half dunk, the lane was wide open because Indiana was respecting UW's shooters.

When UW went on a 7 minute drought without a basket, and Indiana was on a 10-1 run to cut a 10 point lead to 1 with about 4 minutes to go, UW didn't crumble. Is there much doubt that the teams I watched growing up for years would have lost that game? Not Bo Ryan's team. Surely some of that is because Bo is the best recruiter UW has ever had, so the players are better than all those crappy teams I watched fail as a kid. However I feel like Bo's steely temperament carries over to his kids, and that, as much as any talent is why the have such mental toughness.

When Ben Brust threw down a dunk against Indiana, he became by my unofficial count, the 7th different badger to dunk a ball in a game this year (Berggren, Kaminsky, Evans, Bruiser, Dekker, Showalter, and Brust-this is just by memory, I could be wrong). I bet there were years the Badgers didn't have 7 dunks all season when I was a kid, let alone 7 different players.

I remember having a discussion with my cowriter a couple of years ago where I was ripping on this year's group of seniors- Evans, Bruiser and Berggren. I said this years seniors could be the first group of seniors for Bo in a while not to have a 1000 point scorer. Bart was skeptical of that and convinced me that Berggren would get his points over his junior and senior year to get to the milestone. As of right now it is going to be by a nose if any of these seniors make it there. Bruiser has no chance with 391 career points coming into this year and 111 so far for a total of 502. Berggren had almost nothing until last year (just 89 points as a freshman and sophomore) and had a long way to go. He got 379 last season for a total of 468 and has 220 this year for 688 career points. Evans career scoring by year is 116, 95, 397, and 195 so far this year for a total of 803.

The Badgers have 14 regular season games left, at least one guaranteed big ten tourney game, and barring something crazy will play at least one post season game in the NCAA (or NIT if they fall apart). Pretty good chance they win a game in the Big Ten or NCAA tourney which would get them to 17 remaining games. At their current averages Berggren would score another 219 points (12.9*17) and be well short. Evans would score another 196 (17*11.5) and get to 999. I feel there is a pretty good chance UW may get to play 18 games or more which would help Evans get there, but it is no given anyone gets there.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wisconsin v. Indiana

This game has blowout written all over it. There is Wisconsin's ridiculous 10-game win streak that provides the extra bit of motivation for IU. There is Wisconsin riding high, ready to come crashing back to earth. There are the vulnerabilities at guard for Wisconsin, going up against a high-energy half-court defense that always gives Wisconsin fits. Indiana is just very skilled and very good at every position, and they have a high lottery pick to lean on.

Of course, you never know... If I were to chart out a Badger win, it would probably be that IU gets out to a big lead, like 15 points, and then lets off the gas. Their style of defense takes energy, so maybe they let up. And maybe they get lazy on offense—stop touching the post, settle for contested jumpers. Then, starting at about the 8 minute mark of the second half, Wisconsin makes a run and Indiana misses some shots and misses some free throws down the stretch, leaving the door open for a Sam Dekker three-pointer at the buzzer.

The problem is that at home teams get that extra energy boost that fuels them through the lulls, and they also tend to make more of their contested jumpers than usual (see, for example, the Marquette game this year).

I'll stick to my preseason prediction: IU by 10.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Will Wisconsin Make the Tournament?

Prior to yesterday's win over Illinois, many Badger fans were ready to give up on the season. Even now, the Badgers remain "on the bubble," (according to bracketologists) and there are questions whether the team can keep alive its streak of NCAA tournament appearances. On that question, here are some facts to consider:

1) Most agree that the Badgers are a lock if they go 9-9 in the Big Ten. For the Badgers to go 8-10 in Big Ten play would mean losing 10 of their their next 15 games. Such a stretch has occurred only once in the Bo Ryan era, when they lost 10 of their last 15 games in 05-06 after Landry and Stiemsma were declared ineligible. So another way to frame the question is: what are the chances that the next 15 games will match the worst stretch in the Bo Ryan era? Subtract that number from 100 and you get your chance that the Badgers make the tournament. My calculation: 95%.

2) the Badgers have lost 10 games in a entire season only four times (out of 11) under Bo Ryan.

3) the Badgers have never lost more than 8 Big Ten games under Bo Ryan.

4) other than the 05-06 stretch mentioned above, here are the worst 15-game stretches under Ryan:

  •  2001-02—went 8-7 to start the season, then went 1-1 for technically another 8-7 stretch. Eventually they finished 1st in the Big Ten conference for the first time in 54 years.
  •  2008-09—went 7-8 in the middle of the season, culminating with 6 game losing streak in the Big Ten. That team also lost 7 of its last 15. They still won an NCAA tournament game.
  •  Last year—they had a 9-6 stretch that started with the loss at home to Iowa and ended with the loss at Iowa. (Sweet 16.)
  • Other than those stretches, I believe Wisconsin has won at least 10 games in every 15 game stretch under Bo Ryan. Pretty amazing!

5) On the other hand, this will arguably be the most difficult 15 game stretch the Badgers have ever faced under Bo. Depending on how things go, they could be the underdog in up to 10 of the 15 games—though it will probably be more like eight—which would be unprecedented under Bo.

So, anything could happen, but I like the Badgers' chances of keeping the streak alive.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Least important game of the year (so far)

On Tuesday, Wisconsin plays Indiana in Bloomington. Wisconsin will be a huge underdog, as they should be. They have almost no chance of winning this game, and—having done what they needed to do against Illinois—have no need to win it.

So it will be a nice relaxing game to watch: expecting a blowout loss, just hoping they can make it interesting. And maybe, who knows ...


How many times am I going to have to see the replay of that god damn Owens catch in the playoff loss to San Fran. Already up to 2. I put the over under at 6.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Game of the Year (so far)

Wisconsin plays Illinois at the Kohl Center tomorrow. It is one of those games that appears to be a "must win" for both teams.

In truth, it's a must-win only for Wisconsin. Wisconsin is entering an extremely difficult 11-game stretch, perhaps even 12 games if you count at Northwestern as a test (personally I don't—not this year, without Crawford). As it stands, Wisconsin will probably be a significant underdog in 7 of those 11 games.  Other than the home game against Iowa, this will be Wisconsin's best chance for a win. Which means they really need it if they want to make the tournament.

Illinois, on the other hand, has a home game against Northwestern and a road game against Nebraska coming up next. So even if they lose to Wisconsin and fall to 1-3, there's a great chance they'll right the ship and get back to 3-3 in short order. After that they'll have six very winnable games remaining and a decent shot to get to 9-9, making them a certain NCAA tournament qualifier. (Though I'd still predict 8-10—which probably still gets them in.)

In football, the more desperate team nearly always wins. This isn't necessarily true in college basketball. College basketball has a simpler formula: the home team almost always wins.

As you know, I think Illinois is overrated and most smart people agree with me. Though the polls have Illinois ranked as high as 12th, both Kenpom and the Sagarin predictor have them ranked 37th. And Illinois hasn't won a Big Ten road game in over a year. Most recently, they lost an ugly game at Purdue. But, to be fair they do have one of the season's most impressive road wins, at Gonzaga.

Wisconsin has looked far from invincible at home, where they've lost to mediocre Virginia and won a war of attrition against lowly Penn State. Wisconsin is ranked 17 in Kenpom and 25th in the predictor; the humans have Wisconsin in the land of no votes.

Many people are jumping off the Badgers bandwagon after the lackluster wins over Penn State and Nebraska. (These people tend to overlook other teams' "bad wins," though—Illinois, for example, needed buzzer beaters to defeat both Hawaii and Gardner Webb.) As Chorlton explained, the outcomes against Nebraska and Penn State were primarily the result of bad shooting. On a normal shooting night, Wisconsin wins both games easily. (Indeed, if you assume that both teams shoot their season averages on 2s, 3s, and FTs, Wisconsin beats Penn State 73-50 and Nebraska 62-50—which is weirdly close to my pre-season prediction of 75-50 and 65-50 for those games.)

All told, a Wisconsin loss to Illinois would be surprising, but revealing—particularly if the Badgers come out and have another bad shooting night. If that happens, it will probably be time to resign ourselves to the fact that this team just isn't very good at shooting, and therefore not very good at basketball.

But I don't think that's going to happen. Stretches of bad shooting are common, at least for the Badgers. They have these stretches even when they are really good. For example, see the three-game stretch last year when they lost at home to Iowa and Michigan State, then on the road to Michigan: their effective field goal percentage in those three games was 37, 38, 38.2—each of which is worse than any their performances so far this year.

I expect Wisconsin to have an average shooting game and win. I will stick to my pre-season prediction of a 6-point win.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

For Real?

Did you see Minn win @Ill last night? I think we both agree that IL is not for real, but how for real is Minn? I picked them to be the 6th best team in the league in my early season picks, and you predicted them in a 3 way tie for 4th with UW and OSU.
Do you think Minn will be able to challenge MSU, Ind and Mich for the title?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

beat me to it

I was just about to make a much needed post about my neglected Bucks yesterday and the lack of direction of this team, but I ran out of time after posting about the Badgers. GM John Hammond must have been on the same wavelength, as Bucks coach Scott Skiles was fired today. I liked Skiles as a coach but it was clear that this team was rudderless. They had no distinct personality after a season in which they had 2 completely different personalities. Skiles is a good coach who demands his players defend. His early teams were solid defensively with Andrew Bogut as the anchor. When Bogut got hurt, Skiles and the Bucks were pretty much done with their current system. When Bogut was traded last season for Monte Ellis the Bucks went from the top ten in scoring defense (and bottom 10 scoring offense) to the top ten in scoring offense immediately ( and bottom 10 in scoring defense). This season they have fluttered between so many personnel groupings I can't count, as it seems to change every couple games.

To give some idea of the changes- Most teams will have a core group of 7-8 players who dominate the minutes, and 3-4 players who will get fluctuating minutes depending on matchups, injuries, garbage time in blow outs, etc. NBA rosters are 15 deep, and active game day rosters are limited to 12. Usually the bottom 4-5 guys on the roster are developmental players or veteran journeyman filling a hole in the roster. All 15 Bucks have played in a minimum of 9 of 33 games. The bottom guy at 9 games is Drew Gooden who started 46 of 66 games last year, and is a quality role player. 11 of the 15 players have started a game and 2 of the players who haven't are 6th men Dunlevy and Udrih. The Bucks have been relatively healthy this year so injuries are not the reason they have been so erratic with the minutes.

It was hard to figure out exactly what Skiles was trying to do with all the changes. Perhaps he was just changing matchups to try to win games. This would be a novel idea for an NBA coach, who is not coaching in the playoffs. He did OK as the Bucks are 16-16 and in 3rd place in the Central, but constantly changing players just doesn't work in the NBA regular season. In college you only have a player for 4 years and they most likely are going to work as an accountant after they graduate. If you mess with their minutes you can teach them lessons on the court and in life, which is what college coaches should strive for. In the NBA if you mess with a guys minutes you are messing with his paycheck, and his ability to get a bigger one in the future. Players aren't interested in life lessons, they're interested in getting paid.

What in the end cost Skiles his job was the Bogut injury. It's really too bad for Skiles, Bucks fans, and Bogut himself, because before he got hurt he was developing into the player everyone wanted when he was taken with the #1 pick. In that season he had career highs in averages for points, blocks, and shot attempts while averaging over 10 boards, 52% FG, and a career high 63% from the free throw line- hardly great but a sign of his overall improvement. He was 3rd team all NBA that year, and by the end of the year was arguably the best defensive player in the league not named Dwight Howard. The Bucks entire system and the reason Skiles was hired as coach was based around defense with Bogut in the middle. Once he became a one armed player the team and the system no longer worked. When Bogut asked for a trade last year to get a fresh start and management accommodated him, the writing was on the wall that this team was headed for major changes.
While I am sad to see Skiles go, it certainly seems like the right move. I am of the opinion that NBA coaches are about as important as MLB managers, which is to say slightly above useless. The NBA is not like the NFL where coaches are calling every play, and mixing and matching and using almost all of their 46 game day players. NBA players win games, and coaches are there to do the post game interviews. There are a handful of coaches that make any difference at all, and they generally only matter when it comes to playoff time when long series and small adjustments actually matter. So with that in mind this change won't effect the Bucks much this year. The question is where do they go from here.

Skiles was brought in to be a defensive coach and run a defensive system. Will the Bucks go a new direction with their system? They have 7 free agents after this season including Jennings, Ellis, Dunlevy, Udrih, and Dalembert. Rumor is they will extend the contract of GM John Hammonds who is also a free agent after this year. Will the Bucks blow up this team and start over, or invest in the young talent they have. We shall see.

Good luck Scott, and best wishes.

Monday, January 7, 2013

revisiting Lincoln

I may still be wearing the rose (or in this case cardinal) colored glasses, but I did see some things I liked in Lincoln. The biggest of which is that for only the 3rd time this year and the first time since the 3rd game against Cornell, Berggren lead the team in shot attempts. Given the horrendous overall offensive performance I probably should not be looking for positive trends, but I like this one. In addition to the shots, the offense often ran through Berggren, and the other 6 players who got significant minutes each took between 5-8 shots. I like Berggren taking lots of shots, and I like offensive balance from the rest of the players (Evans did have 8 free throw attempts in addition to 8 shots so he was ahead of the others).

I posted earlier this year regarding Gasser's loss that I thought there was no chance that this would become Berggren's team. I thought that Dekker would find his way into that role given the lack of play makers in the backcourt, but he has pretty much stayed the course in his steady development and continues to play within the offense. Ryan Evans and Brust have both taken on the role of shooters and creators. They are 1 and 2 in shot attempts. Brust has been more aggressive with the dribble drive and Evans has been much more active in the post as well as being the primary post feeder to Berggren. In any given game shot attempts can be high for anyone depending on the defense and if a guy is hot or not, but you like to see your best player getting the most shots.

If Brust and Evans are going to lead the way, I guess I'm OK with that. It certainly isn't going to be Jackson and Marshall. I just hope that they remember Berggren is the best player and they need to get him his touches and shots. If not we will be condemned to a season of Evans jacking up 18 foot jumpers and Brust diving into three defenders in the lane.

Was I wrong about Illinois? No.

For some reason I have become fixated on the merits of Illinois's basketball team. Having gone public with my belief that they are a "fraud," I now actively root against them so that my uninformed opinion can be validated. This is one of the great things about making my stupid opinions public—it makes watching sports more interesting.

As you'll recall, I first discussed Illinois prior to their road game with Purdue. I said that a loss against Purdue would prove that they are not for real. They lost to Purdue, so I declared them not for real. I also opined (on Twitter) that Illinois was now facing the likelihood of an 0-4 start in the Big Ten, with upcoming games against Ohio State, Minnesota, and at Wisconsin.

Illinois promptly went out and destroyed Ohio State.

So was I wrong about Illinois? Of course not! I was wrong about Ohio State.

Coming into the season, I was suspicious of all the love Ohio State was getting. They lost a lot from last year's Final Four team, and have mostly unproven players coming back. They do have a scorer's scorer in DeShaun Thomas, but the rest of the team is mostly question marks.

They really did nothing in the non-conference to dispel these doubts. They won all the games they should have won, and lost the two games (at Duke and against Kansas) that you can excuse them for losing.

What happened, really, is that I kind of forgot about my doubts about Ohio State. But I remembered them well when I watched them play Illinois on Saturday. Mainly, they had a bad shooting day—something I've watched a lot of, lately. But it was also pretty clear that their offense is not a well-oiled machine. Thomas can score, but he's the only one who can consistently create his own looks. And he has to create his own looks, because they didn't get a lot of open looks out of the flow of the offense.

I'm sure Ohio State will be fine, but they look like a team that is going to have a tough time winning on the road in the Big Ten. That was my takeaway from their game against Illinois.

As for Illinois . . . Perhaps they can be put back in the "jury's still out" category. If they beat Minnesota or Wisconsin this week, they'll have done probably enough to assure that they get to 9-9 in conference, which would make them a clear tourney lock. That would be a good result for that team. But we shall see...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Super Bowl Saturday

I am on record that the winner of the game this Saturday between the Packers and 49ers will go on to win the Superbowl. Much like in the early 90s when the Cowboys-49ers game was the de facto Super bowl, this game features the leagues 2 best teams.
I like the Packers to win, and face Denver in the Superbowl.

Sure am glad I turned the TV back on

I was in a bit of a funk after watching the Nebraska game today. A game which was very much like the PSU game in that UW out played them but kept them in the game with horrendous shooting (4-17 on 3 pointers, 3-13 free throws). UW has got to shoot better or they may not win 5 games in the Big Ten. I was beginning to have my doubts about this team.

I went into my basement to work out and watch the end of the Redskins-Seahawks game, and then was about to take the dogs to the park but I decided to turn on the Minn-Northwestern game. To my surprise Minn was trailing 13-11 with 3 minutes to go in the first half. This is the #13 team in the country playing at home against a Northwestern team that struggles defensively and is riddled with injuries. That made me feel better. Minn closed out the half on a 6-1 run to take a 17-14 halftime lead. The game was still in doubt until about the 10 minute mark of the 2nd half when Hollins hit 5 straight 3s to put it away.

UW is going to have some games this year when they hit shots. They will probably have more when they don't. They are going to have some games when they get the snat beat out of them. They are going to have to win games ugly. In the end all that matters is the W or L. UW got a W today, and hopefully they get a bunch more.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Badgers' Big Ten Season Begins

Yesterday I wrote about the Illinois–Purdue matchup, and opined that an Illinois loss would prove that they are a fraud. Illinois lost. They are a fraud. And by that I mean that I think they will finish below Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings.

Now, about Wisconsin, which opens up tonight at home against Penn State. This is not the Badgers team I was hoping for this year. Mainly this is due to the loss of Josh Gasser, who was probably their most indispensible player. But I've also been disappointed in the play of George Marshall. There were rumors that he was something special, and he may well turn out to be. But he isn't there yet—at least not as a point guard. I have been impressed with his shooting (he has hit 20 threes, more than anyone else but Brust, and trails only fellow freshman Sam Dekker in 3P%) but he is not ready to run the offense, and probably isn't ready to play Big Ten defense up to Bo Ryan's standards. Nor is Trae Jackson. So those are real problems.

But this is still Wisconsin, and they are still coached by Bo Ryan. Even with their four losses, Kenpom has them ranked 17th, and the Sagarin Predictor as them ranked 20th. Wisconsin also benefits from a relatively favorable Big Ten schedule—they play Indiana (road) and Michigan (home) only once, don't have to travel to Purdue, and get a good chance at a road win at Northwestern.

They also get to ease into the season a bit, with their first three games against Penn State, at Nebraska, and at home against Illinois. This is probably their easiest three-game stretch of the conference season (except for possibly their late-season stretch that goes @NW, Nebraska, Purdue).

A lot of people are giving up on the Badgers. For example, Seth Davis says "This is not your older brother's Bo Ryan team," and urges us to "sell" our stock in the Badgers. I'm holding. But these first three games are crucial. The Badgers absolutely have win the first two, obviously, and really need to win the third as well. If they don't, I may have to concede that Seth Davis was right. And you have no idea how very painful that would be.

Anyhow, here's my super-prediction of the Badgers' conference season:

1/3: Penn State— W, 75-50
1/6: @Nebraska— W, 65-50
1/12: Illinois — W, 71-65
1/15: @Indiana— L, 80-70
1/19: @Iowa— W, 69-68
1/22: MSU — W, 65-61
1/26: Minn. — W, 60-56
1/29: @OSU — L, 73-60
2/3: @Illinois — L, 70-61
2/6: Iowa— W, 80-60
2/9: Michigan— L, 65-64
2/14: @Minnesota— L, 65-59
2/17: OSU— W, 65-64
2/20: @Northwestern— W, 70-60
2/26: Nebraska— W, 70-50
3/2: Purdue— W, 65-50
3/7: @MSU— L, 59-49
3/10: @Penn State— W, 71-59

That's how I get to 12-6.

I have put in bold the season's Seven Crucial Games. The first is the home game against Illinois on Jan. 12th. Since Illinois is not for real, the Badgers must beat them at home, and I expect them to. But if they don't, then you can subtract at least three other wins off this list.

The other six in bold are the Swing Six™—the six games that could go either way. Luckily, four of the six are at home, where the Badgers rarely lose. This is the main reason I have the Badgers going 4-2 in these games. But they could easily go 2-4, as well, if the ball doesn't bounce their way.

As you can see, we will know a lot more about the Badgers by the end of this month. The three-game stretch @Iowa, MSU, and Minn will be crucial. My 3-0 prediction there seems, I admit, optimistic, and I would certainly be happy with 2 out of 3. But it should be fun to watch.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Early Big Ten test for Illinois

Among Big Ten teams, it's safe to say Illinois had the most surprisingly positive performance during the non-conference season. No one was expecting much of this team in John Groce's first year. These are still Bruce Weber's players—a ragtag bunch of talented individuals who just don't seem to have the patience required to play winning college basketball. But so far they've gone 13-1, with a neutral court win over Butler, an impressive road win over a very good Gonzaga team, and just the one loss to a good Missouri team on a neutral court. That résumé has them sitting at No. 11 in the current AP poll, and they're projected as a 3-seed in the tourney over at the Bracket Matrix.

Still, there's good reason to be suspicious of this Illinois team. First, there's history. Illinois started out 11-1 last year, too, and that start also included a nice win over Gonzaga (though it came at home). Then the wheels fell off. Illinois won just six more games and finished 17-15.

Second, a closer look at the way Illinois has won its games isn't as impressive as their won-loss record. For example, they just squeaked out a two-point win over lowly Auburn in Chicago the other day. Although they had the game in hand with just over a minute to go, they made several boneheaded plays in the final minute, which almost let Auburn back in the game. It was not real impressive to watch. They also barely beat a bad Hawai'i team (on the road), a mediocre Gardner-Webb team, and a bad Western Carolina team (which tied the game with six minutes left).

As a result, the computer ranking systems are not high on Illinois. Kenpom has them ranked 41st, and the Sagarin Predictor has them 35th.

If it weren't for the road win over Gonzaga, I'd be pretty confident in labeling the Illini a fraud. But Gonzaga is good—they're 8-0 against other Kenpom top-100 teams (including a huge win at Oklahoma State on New Years' Eve)—and Illinois is their only loss on the season so far. College basketball is, of course, a coach's sport, and there is a real possibility that John Groce has turned Illinois right around. So I'm withholding judgment.

Until at least tonight. Tonight Illinois plays at Purdue, which is deep into a rebuilding season. Purdue comes into Big Ten play with a 6-6 record. They have just one okay win (at Clemson) and at least one terrible loss (at Eastern Washington Michigan, 47-44). They're not likely to be favored in any Big Ten game except their games against Northwestern (at home), Nebraska, and Penn State.

Purdue is bad enough that even a win by Illinois tonight will not prove they are for real. But a loss tonight will prove—to my satisfaction, at least—that Illinois is just fool's gold.

Illinois is a 2.5 – 3 point favorite. I'll take Purdue and three points.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Big Ten basketball predictions

I may supplement this with actual analysis tomorrow, but here's my predicted finish in the Big Ten:

Indiana 14-4
Michigan 14-4
Michigan State 13-5
Minnesota 12-6
Wisconsin 12-6
Ohio State 12-6
Iowa 9-9
Illinois 8-10
Purdue 6-12
Northwestern 4-12
Penn State 2-16
Nebraska 1-17

That probably doesn't add up, but I'm tired and it's not likely anybody cares about my stupid uniformed opinion anyhow.