MINNEAPOLIS - Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s scouting reports are a closely guarded secret; profiles that are largely comprised by the assistant coaches that are big on details and are only for the eyes and ears of his players.
What’s actually on those reports is anyone’s guess, but assistant coach Lamont Paris says rebounding isn’t prominently featured. Why? It goes without saying.
“Guys are putting emphasis on it, we’ve emphasized it and we’ve always emphasized it,” said Paris. “People always say you have to rebound in this game. I don’t know if there’s ever been a game where we said we didn’t have to rebound.”
That mentality has served No.6 Wisconsin (26-3, 14-2 Big Ten) well entering the final week of the regular season, which starts tonight against Minnesota (17-12, 6-10) at Williams Arena. With a combination of experience, good positioning and some fortuitous bounces, the Badgers are 20-1 when outrebounding their opponent and lead the Big Ten in rebounding defense, limiting opponents to only 27.7 boards per game.
Should that number stand, it would mark the third time in the last 11 seasons the Badgers led the league in that category but represent the lowest total by any team during that time frame.
And it’s not like Wisconsin is outmuscling an undersized Big Ten either, as the Badgers have outrebounded good rebounding teams with a variety of lineups.
It’s a stark difference from last season when Wisconsin’s three-guard lineup was outrebounded in conference play and only finished plus-1.4. Now the Badgers starting frontcourt includes 6-8 sophomore forward Nigel Hayes, 6-9 junior forward Sam Dekker and 7-0 senior center Frank Kaminsky.
“We start three guys 6-8 and taller,” said Kaminsky, who leads Wisconsin and is second in the league with 8.3 rebounds per game, “We go into every game feeling we should be able to dominate the paint offensively and defensively.”
The starting lineup is only part of the change in Wisconsin’s rebounding margin improving to plus-6, second best in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s plus-7.4. The other part, quite simply, is better focus.
“It comes down to the guys putting effort into it and guys who weren’t good rebounders last year who have improved,” said Paris. “Some guys have turned into consistent rebounders.”
No one on the roster has seen their rebounding numbers take a bigger spike than Hayes. Playing more frontcourt minutes than last year (over 15 per game on average), Hayes has gone from a player averaging 2.8 rebounds to one pulling down 6.3.
And he did it by developing a mentality and a desire to do it as opposed to practicing it nonstop in the offseason.
“I felt I needed to improve on after Coach (Gary) Close got in my ear about it,” said Hayes. “He called me the worst rebounder in the country last year. (Rebounding was) something that would help me grow as a player.”
It took just 16 games for Hayes to surpass his total rebounds (106) from 38 games in 2013-14. He’s led Wisconsin in rebounding 10 times and registered six double-doubles on the season. Throw in Kaminsky’s 10 double-doubles, Wisconsin obliterated last year’s total of seven.
“His numbers are drastically different from last year,” Paris said of Hayes. “He put more emphasis on it, which has made him more cognizant of making an effort to go to the boards, making an effort to counter once he gets boxed out and getting back if he doesn’t get the rebound.”
“It’s been an overall effort by the team, as we know we have to do this by committee,” Hayes added. Everybody has got to have a little bit.”
That’s effort has opened up opportunities for Wisconsin on the perimeter and second-chance points in the paint, elements that have helped the Badgers on nights when shots aren’t falling.
Rated the most efficient offense in the country, Wisconsin has only been held under 40 percent shooting five times. The Badgers went 4-1 in those games, going 4-0-1 in the rebounding battle, pulling down 37.2 boards in those games and allowing just 29.8 rebounds.
It’s nights like that which have given Wisconsin a chance to succeed no matter the circumstances.
“Every game we won’t come out shooting lights out,” said Hayes. “Some games this season we’ve shot the ball pretty well from 3-point line, but when those shots aren’t falling, it’s very critical for us to get second-chance points and get around the rim. When we do that, we’re tough to stop.”