Adjusting to Life After Leuer

With Jon Leuer stuck in Madison, No.13 Wisconsin showed him that they can pick up the fallen. Going with a three-guard lineup for most of the game, Wisconsin fans got a glimpse of what UW will be like in the near future. So far, so good.

EVANSTON, Ill. - The Wisconsin Badgers will be spending the heart of their conference season without second leading scorer and leading rebounder Jon Leuer. Now a junior, Leuer continually added strength over the last few seasons and now has established himself as a legitimate presence inside on both offense and defense.

However, Leuer will be out for a significant amount of time and his absence left many Badgers fans wondering how Wisconsin would respond without their big man. Wednesday night at Northwestern provided a glimpse of what the Badgers will have to do in order to stay at a high level of play while Leuer is out.

At Northwestern, the Badgers trotted out a lineup of Jordan Taylor, Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon, Tim Jarmusz and Keaton Nankivil. Clearly, Wisconsin was going to rely on its play on the perimeter as Bo Ryan substituted his tallest regular contributor for his shortest. Without a true post player and three players under 6-foot-3, the Badgers relied almost exclusively on perimeter shots throughout the game.

In the first half, Jason Bohannon came out aggressive and consistently knocked down his mid range jump shot. Bohannon's hot shooting offset an offense that seemed to lack fluidity and purpose playing without their star junior big man. The offense became very one dimensional as post touches remained extremely limited, thus forcing the Badgers to play from the outside-in, something that goes against the typical direction of a Bo Ryan offense.

The second half remained essentially the same in regards to rhythm and fluidity on the offensive end, the only difference being the remarkable performance put on by senior Trevon Hughes towards the end of the half. Most noticeably, the Badgers struggled to get clean looks and crisp ball movement against Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone. This resulted in the ball stalling up top and delayed and slow passes around the perimeter, which as expected led to a lot of shots beyond the arc. To be exact, the Badgers took precisely half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc and appeared to only get clean looks when either Jordan Taylor or Trevon Hughes attempted to penetrate the lane and dish it out to shooters spotting up on the outside.

Two Areas of Analysis:

The Players:

Everyone obviously needs to step their game up with Leuer sidelined; however, a lot of the scoring load will continue to fall on the talented backcourt trio of Bohannon, Hughes and Taylor. Hughes and Taylor have developed great chemistry on the court and continue to makes things happen on the offensive end on a nightly basis. On the other hand, Bohannon may become the X-factor until Leuer comes back and he must continue to show up every night and shoulder some of the scoring load.

Bohannon began the season a bit inconsistent and seemed to struggle with his shot against better opponents and top defenses. However, as of late, he has really looked confident, aggressive and determined on the offensive end. This aggressiveness and confidence has spurred an offensive surge since the beginning of conference play in which he has officially become a reliable and consistent scoring option and not just a spot up shooter. His continued aggressiveness will be vital as his presence and actual shot attempts will help alleviate some of the defensive pressure on Hughes and Taylor.

Many expected to see increased playing time for Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and possibly even Jared Berggren; however, Evans barely saw the court against Northwestern and Berggren did not get off of the bench. As the conference season continues, at least two of these players will need to fill a number of minutes in the post as the Badgers go up against teams with a more physical style than Northwestern.

Ideally, Berggren will step up and prove his defensive liabilities are in the past as he provides the one true post threat on the team now that Leuer is out of the lineup. While Evans, Bruesewitz and Nankivil can mix it up inside, none of those three are all that comfortable with their back to the basket.

Strategy/Coaching:

Without a true post threat, the Badgers will be playing small and relying on the play of their guards. Fortunately, Wisconsin possesses three tremendous guards in Hughes, Bohannon and Taylor. However, the swing offense is predicated on post touches and working from the inside-out. This may become an issue as the Badgers do not have one player who consistently works out of the low post in their rotation.

Thus, the Badgers will most likely look to attack off the dribble and be aggressive early in the shot clock as they hope to get into their offense before the defense is set. This stretch of games may debunk one of the greater myths in the game of college basketball, that being that Bo Ryan is absolutely opposed to pushing the ball and playing at an up-tempo pace. Certainly Ryan does not favor this style of basketball but Ryan also certainly will not object to the style that best suits his players.

As an astute observer of the game, I am confident Ryan will see the need to play at a faster pace and create opportunities for his talented guards to work in space. I do not expect the Badgers to be mistaken for a John Calipari coached Memphis team or a true run-gun offense, I simply anticipate players looking to become increasingly aggressive earlier in the shot clock and push the ball more often than in the past. Additionally, there were signs of this already as Wisconsin played all summer with a 25 second shot clock and looked noticeably more confident and aggressive early in the shot clock so far this season.

Now for the Northwestern game itself:

Offense: B-

Playing without Leuer left the offense extremely one dimensional and it showed in the poor shooting throughout the game. Thankfully, Bohannon was hot in the first half and Hughes came to the rescue in the second. Dribble penetration will remain the key to success on offense as the Badgers play without a post presence over a large stretch of their conference season.

Defense: A

Played outstanding defense given their lack of size inside and limited Northwestern's second chances extremely well. Wisconsin did a great job communicating on defense as Northwestern ran their patented Princeton offense and constantly put pressure on the Badgers to switch and hedge their ball screens. With Leuer out, the Badgers will need to rebound as a team and have their guards crash the glass as they did tonight.

Coaching: B

Pulled out the victory in the end and did a good job preparing for Northwestern defensively. However, I did feel that Rob Wilson and Ryan Evans should have been used more off the bench, specifically Wilson who seems to lose confidence every time he is pulled after a very limited stint on the court. Additionally, the offense did not look pretty and their was not enough of an emphasis to dribble penetrate and exploit the baseline and low post area which were open all night long on the 1-3-1 defense Northwestern ran. Finally, there will need to be slight tweaks and adjustments to the offense now that the one true post presence is missing and I am confident Coach Ryan will make the necessary changes.

Game MVP: Trevon Hughes – In what was looking like possibly his worst game for the Badgers, Hughes turned it on at the end and single handedly led the Badgers to victory down the stretch.


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