Badgers Hoops: First Semester Grades

Ranked fifth in the country after going 10-1 to begin the 2014-15 season, Wisconsin basketball returns to the court Monday in a tough road game at California. Before the Badgers begin the unofficial second half, BadgerNation hands out the first semester grades.

Offense: A

It was expected that Wisconsin would have one of the more efficient offenses this season. Through 11 games that’s been the case, as Wisconsin is shooting 49.3 percent from the field, which ranks 24th in the NCAA and fourth in the Big Ten. Even when Wisconsin has had off nights shooting the basketball, they still have been able to find ways to register a good field goal percentage. Only once this year have the Badgers shot below 40 percent from the field, which came in a winning effort against Marquette (32.7 percent).

The Badgers have been able to shoot better than 50 percent six times from the field in 11 games. Their best shooting performance to date came against Milwaukee when they shot 60.9 percent, which was their best shooting performance since the North Dakota game in 2010, which they made 62 percent of their field goals.

The trio of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes all are averaging double figures in scoring for Wisconsin. Kaminsky is leading the way with a career-best 16 points a game. If Kaminsky can keep his average up, he will be the sixth player under Coach Bo Ryan to average 16 or more points in a season. Dekker is second with 11.8 points and Hayes is third with 11.7 points.

With Wisconsin having such great length and size amongst its forwards and centers, opposing defenses have tried to challenge Wisconsin at times by playing zone defense. That’s allowed the Badgers to be efficient from 3-point range, as UW is shooting 34.7 percent from three on 20.1 attempts a game. Josh Gasser leads Wisconsin making 45.5 percent of his attempts and Kaminsky is second at 42.2 percent.

A lot was made of Hayes and him developing a game outside of the paint. Even though Hayes has been effective around the rim this season, he has demanded respect because of his perimeter game, shooting 35 percent on 20 3-point attempts this year. Hayes has often taken his shots from three off of transition plays or late in the shot clock. He has never tried to force a shot, continuing to play to his game and take the shot when it is there.

As important as the ability is to shoot a high percentage from the field, a Ryan-coached team will always be judged on how well Wisconsin takes care of the basketball. The Badgers only average 8.9 turnovers a game, which ranks first in the Big Ten. As dominant as the offense has been at times, it’s good to see UW not be careless with the ball when it starts to take control of the game. Wisconsin has only registered five games this year when the number of turnovers has reached double digits.

Defense: A

It is hard to get an idea of how good this Wisconsin defense is when you consider they have only played two power five conference teams and three teams that made the NCAA Tournament from a year ago, going 2-1 in those games. But Wisconsin does rank first in Big Ten scoring defense as they have allowed opponents to score 51.7 points a game.

Regardless of the lack of competition, UW did hold an Oklahoma offense to 56 points during the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game. The 56 points is the fewest the No. 15 Sooners have scored this year, as they are averaging 75 points a game this season.

Not surprising Gasser has been one of the main reason why the defense has been good, tied for second on the team with 12 steals. Gasser has done a particularly good job of keeping his opponent in front of him. Even if Gasser does get beat, he can rely on Kaminsky or Hayes to guard the low post, as they rank first and second in blocks with 21 and eight, respectively. Kaminsky ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 1.9 blocks and he ranks third in total blocks.

Because of UW’s two bigs in the low post, Wisconsin is only allowing 22.3 points in the paint a game. With teams struggling to get the basketball down low for high percentage shots, teams are forced to settle for jump shots, as Wisconsin is holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting. Not surprisingly the size and length of the UW defense has proven to be too much for opponents at times, forcing them to take shots that they aren’t comfortable taking. It also helps when Wisconsin can build their lead that opponents start to settle for shots early in the shot clock. Those things have helped Wisconsin win the rebounding battle by an average margin of plus-8.3.

Wisconsin’s defense has been able to force an average of 13.4 turnovers a game, 6.5 of which have come off of steals. Creating turnovers has allowed the Badgers to take advantage on offense to help continue to build their lead.

Overall: A

I think 10-1 is the record many Wisconsin fans would have expected, considering it would have been difficult for Wisconsin to go undefeated during a difficult four game stretch in eight days, which included playing three games in three days in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Even if Wisconsin was undefeated, it probably wouldn’t change many fans minds on this team.

What Wisconsin fans can say regardless of who the opponent was is the Badgers took care of business and didn’t allow teams that Wisconsin was clearly better than hang around in games. UW is winning by an average margin of 22.8 points a game, a clear case that the Badgers are taking care of business.

The trio of Kaminsky, Hayes, and Dekker are the leading scorers for Wisconsin, as expected, and each have shown they are capable of leading the team on offense. All have led Wisconsin in scoring at one point this season.

Dekker’s slight dip in points per game (his 11.8 points are .6 points less than last year) is in part due to him recovering from an ankle injury that he suffered during preseason camp. Despite dealing with the injury, he still has managed to score in double digits in seven of the first 11 games. His ankle caused his aggressiveness to wane, which resulted him being on the bench during critical moments of games, like the Duke loss. Over the last two games, however, it seems like his injury is starting to move behind him, showing more bounce in his step and playing more aggressive on the court. Moving forward, Wisconsin will need Dekker to rely on his aggressive style of play to help them against physical teams.

That aggressive style has helped the Badgers get to the free throw line 19.7 times a game, but Wisconsin is only hitting 71.4 percent of its free throws, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. Even with the lower-than-usual percentage, Wisconsin is 6-1 under Ryan this year when they shoot above 70 percent from the free throw line. Senior Traevon Jackson leads Wisconsin in 45 free throw attempts but he is only making 66 percent of his free throws.

The bench has been very serviceable and doesn’t miss a beat when one of the starters comes out. Senior Duje Dukan provides the length and experience, and sophomore Vitto Brown has slowly developed since the beginning of the season and appears to be getting more comfortable as he continues to log more minutes.

Bronson Koenig has also played well despite being behind two veteran senior guards. Koenig only averages 4.6 points a game but has consistently shown he has also shown the ability to create a shot by using crossovers or a step-back jump stop. Currently Koenig has shown to be more of a threat as a passer, as he’s second on the team in assists with 2.5, but more impressively he has been able to take care of the basketball with only six turnovers on the year.

Early MVP: Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky has been good in so many areas this season. Not only does Kaminsky lead Wisconsin in scoring (leading scorer for UW six times), he is second in field goal percentage (54 percent), second in 3-point field goal percentage, second most free throw attempts (68.3 percent), tied for first in rebounds, second on the team in assists and leads the team in steals with 13.

During the Battle 4 Atlantis, Kaminsky got into foul trouble against both Georgetown and Oklahoma. The offense survived with him on the bench but wasn’t nearly as effective. The best example is against the Sooners when he picked up two early fouls. Wisconsin went into halftime up one but a rested Kaminsky changed everything in the second half, scoring 14 of his 17 points to win tournament MVP honors.

Although Kaminsky hasn’t gone up against a lot of size through 11 games, Kaminsky still has shown he’s developed his game and remains an offensive threat wherever he is on the floor. One aspect that we have seen more of this year than in past years is Kaminsky bringing the basketball up the court in transition. Kaminsky has done well with the ball in his hands, as he only averages 1.6 turnovers a game.


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