Wisconsin Basketball: Three Improvements for Conference Play
Wisconsin is one of many teams that have their eyes on a Big Ten Conference Championship. The Wisconsin men’s basketball team has finished the non-conference season at 11-2. The Badgers are currently ranked 14th in both the AP and coaches poll. The Badgers two losses came at the hands of Creighton and North Carolina. North Carolina is currently ranked ninth, while Creighton is ranked tenth in the country. In both games the Badgers didn’t particularly play well. After the loss to the Tar Heels, the Badgers finished the non-conference schedule on a seven game winning streak. The Big Ten is once again a deep conference this season. For the Badgers to compete with the likes of Indiana and Purdue, they will need to improve on a few things for conference play, which begins this week against Rutgers.
Under Greg Gard, the Badgers have went back to the more traditional swing offense that Bo Ryan used earlier in his tenure at Wisconsin. The swing offense is a scheme that allows all five players on the court to be interchangeable. The swing relies on good spacing and screening. It also depends on good passing, as well as cutting to the basket. Every player on the floor must know how to play every position. Big men can shoot from the outside, while guards can post up and go to work in the paint.
This is where Nigel Hayes comes in. Hayes is obviously one of the Badgers’ best players and needs to have the ball in his hands. The Badgers need to give him more post touches. In the game against Syracuse, where he was one point away from a triple-double, he had the ball in high post almost every possession. Hayes put on a clinic distributing the ball as well as scoring in the post. Hayes was the Badgers leader in assists last season, averaging three assists per game.
Not every team like Syracuse will run a 2-3 zone that will allow him to sit in the middle of the zone, but Nigel Hayes has shown success in the post earlier in his career. He is a Draymond Green type player in the college ranks-a great post player who can also distribute the ball and knock down an open three. At times Hayes has fallen in love with the three point shot this season. This has gotten him away from working in the post.
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The NBA is certainly a factor in this shift of playing style, as NBA players are shooting threes more and more. It makes sense for Nigel to work on his three-point shot for his future career, but the Badgers would be better served with him in the post. With Hayes in the post, it allows for shooters like Bronson Koenig, D’Mitrik Trice, and Vitto Brown to space the floor and knock down shots. It also allows Ethan Happ the opportunity to cut to the basket and get easier baskets. When Hayes receives more post touches, the Wisconsin offense is much more efficient and harder to defend.
Another change that would improve the Badgers would be more playing time for D’Mitrik Trice. Trice is a great shooter who really spreads the floor and is a three-point specialist. He is the younger brother of Travis Trice, who was a great shooter in his own right at Michigan State. Trice played for his father in high school, and like many coaches sons has a very high basketball IQ. Greg Gard has mentioned Trice’s game on and off the court as the “right way”.
Trice is also a more seasoned freshman because of his year at a prep school for basketball. Travis Trice is shooting 50 percent from the field, 60 percent from three-point range, and 85 percent from the line. Those shooting percentages have been off the charts so far this year, and even more impressive that he’s doing it as a true freshman.
Loss of Playing Time
Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
If the Badgers decide to play Trice more, it will come at the expense of other players’ minutes. Currently Trice is averaging 18 minutes a game, a little less than half a game. The two most likely candidates would be Jordan Hill and Zak Showalter. Showalter is more of a defensive stopper, energy guy and fan favorite. He currently is playing over 26 minutes a game for the Badgers. Trice would definitely spread the floor and knock down more shots than Showalter, as he is the better shooter and scorer. His defense isn’t a big drop off from Showalter’s. Depending on the match-up, Wisconsin could benefit from Trice’s presence on the court at shooting guard.
The other player who would be losing minutes would be Jordan Hill. Hill showed some promise last year during his sophomore season, but has really taken a step back so far this season. He’s still playing over ten minutes a game, but hasn’t been productive. Hill also hasn’t been shooting the ball very well this season, and has struggled with scoring off the bench in general. Hill would be the other player whose minutes would be cut if Trice received more playing time. With Trice playing more, the Badger’s offense is definitely more dangerous. It allows the Badgers to spread the floor and find open shooter on the court with the likes of Koenig, Brown and Trice.
One other thing that could help the play of the Wisconsin basketball team would be the passing of Bronson Koenig. As a high school phenom from the great city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Koenig had lots of buzz surrounding him when he signed with the Badgers. Passing was the one skill that was talked about more than any other that he possessed. Scouts, coaches and fans raved about his passing. For being called a passing wizard coming out of high school, he has only shown flashes of that in college.
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Koenig has become more of a scoring point guard since coming to Wisconsin; his assist numbers have been way down. He’s averaging nearly 15 points a game this season, which is a career high. But at the same time, he is only averaging two assists per game this season, about his career average. This is an alarming stat for a point guard that was lauded for his passing ability.
Koenig is currently 37th in the Big Ten for assists per game. Other guards in the Big Ten such as Tai Webster, Melo Trimble, Peter Jok, and Scottie Lindsey are all scoring and assisting at a higher rate than Koenig. Koenig is also behind three other teammates when it comes to assists per game.
Even with Koenig being the point guard and averaging the most minutes per game this season. The Wisconsin offense is much more efficient and scores more points when they have high assist rates during games. Examples of this would be impressive victories against Syracuse, Oklahoma, and Marquette this season. The Badgers had at least 15 assists in each of those games. Koenig can continue to have one of his best scoring seasons of his career as well as raise his assist rates
The Badgers at times like to play isolation basketball instead of running the offense. This forces Koenig to take tough shots instead of distributing the basketball to open teammates. If Koenig can start to distribute that ball like Badger fans know he can, it will bring another element to the Badger’s offense. The Badgers would become even more dangerous than they already are, which is saying something for a top ranked team.
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