Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How good is Wisconsin's offense? We may find out tonight.

So far, the Badgers basketball team this year is very good on offense and suspect on defense. This was an expected development, as they lost three senior starters from last year's team, two of whom were essentially defensive specialists and one of whom just had a disappointing year on the offensive side.

With Frank Kaminsky's 43-point explosion confirming suspicions that he has elite offensive ability; with Sam Dekker's exceptional talent continuing to blossom into refined skill; with three very solid, sharpshooting guards starting and two more coming off the bench—it appears the sky is the limit for the Badgers on offense.

How good has it been so far? Very good. Here's a telling stat: Wisconsin has scored more points per possession against each of its opponents than any other team has scored against them. In other words, each of the Badgers' opponents has had their worst defensive game so far against Wisconsin. That's the column of "ones" at right below:

(From kenpom.com)

The Badgers did have two relatively poor offensive games (against Florida and Green Bay), but those were still the best anyone has done against those teams. The caveat there is that Green Bay has played literally no one else in D1, and Florida hasn't really been otherwise tested.

But, on the flip side, the explosion against St. John's is looking better and better. I was amused by some of the commentary I saw on message boards after that game deriding St. John's poor defense. In fact they have a good defense, as expected—Wisconsin just picked it apart. St. John's has gone on to perform very well in on defense, holding Wagner, Bucknell, and Monmouth to 80.6, 102, and 82.4 PPP, respectively. That's not exactly a murderer's row, but Bucknell's offense appears to be excellent even without Mike Muscala: they are shooting almost 50% from three and have a team eFG% of nearly 60%; overall they rank 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency. That performance against St. John's was their worst of the year.

Tonight, however, the Badgers play a truly elite defense in St. Louis—currently ranked 5th in defensive efficiency—so this will be a test for the Wisconsin offense. St. Louis continues to adhere to Rick Majerus's defensive principles. Like the Badgers, they limit three-point attempts and try to force teams into tough two-point jumpers: opponents score just 13.4% of their points on three-pointers (345th in D1) while scoring 65.3% of their points on twos (6th). Not only do they limit three-point attempts, but so far they've limited three-point makes, as opponents are shooting just 20% from three against them.

If the Badgers shoot 20% from three tonight, they almost certainly will lose. The Badgers score 35% of their points on threes, and they shoot a sizzling 45% from beyond the arc. They are a jump-shooting team, as usual, but this year at least they are actually a good jump-shooting team. If they go cold against St. Louis, say goodnight. But if the Badgers manage to fill it up against the Billikens, I think we'll know that they are definitively elite on offense

One mystery about St. Louis is why they are getting no love. They return four starters from last year's A-10 champs, all of whom are seniors now. They were very good last year: a 5-seed in the tourney, and 16th in the final Pomeroy ratings. They came in at 13th in my T-Rank preseason ratings, and have worked their way up to 17th in the current Pomeroy ratings. Yet they got zero votes in the most recent AP poll, despite being undefeated, so they are flying under the radar. But make no mistake: this is a top-25 team that will likely be fighting for a protected seed come March. This is a huge game for them.

In other words, we'll find out a lot about the Badgers tonight.

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