Advanced capabilities: Badgers most offensively efficient team in country

With players like Frank Kaminsky, the Badgers rank first nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and sixth in two-point field-goal percentage.

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MADISON, Wis. — Acknowledging the importance of adjusted offensive efficiency in college basketball likely doesn’t move the meter for fans, who prefer the immediacy of a good old-fashioned alley-oop dunk or a crossover step-back jumper. But in the newfangled world of advanced analysis, where metrics are used to break down every facet of the game, few statistics over the long haul are more indicative of a team’s success.

What in the world is adjusted offensive efficiency? College basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy, whose kenpom.com website has become a modern-day bible for hoops junkies, notes on his site that raw offensive efficiency represents points scored per 100 offensive possessions. The adjusted version he coined changes for the "quality of opposing defenses, the site of each game, and when each game was played (recent games get more weight)."

All of that may sound like a whole bunch of mumbo-jumbo for Wisconsin basketball fans. Until, that is, you consider this: the Badgers happen to lead the country in that category. And when stacked against the rest of the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s dominance truly shines through.

Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating (123.5) is one-tenth of a point ahead of Notre Dame (123.4) for the national lead. Indiana (116.8), which ranks seventh, is the only other Big Ten team to crack the top 20. And lest anybody think the statistic is meaningless, it’s worth noting the teams ranked in the top 10 in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating have a combined record of 168-35 and include Gonzaga, Virginia and Duke in addition to Wisconsin and Notre Dame — five teams ranked in the top eight of the latest Associated Press top-25 poll.

No. 5 Wisconsin (18-2, 6-1 in Big Ten play) will try to continue its impressive scoring rate when it travels to play Iowa (13-7, 4-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 20, an 82-50 Wisconsin victory, the Badgers scored at an astounding clip of 1.52 points per possession, which represented a season high.

Perhaps it is nothing new to suggest Wisconsin plays efficient basketball under Badgers coach Bo Ryan. One reason UW has traditionally been successful under Ryan is because of the team’s ability to limit mistakes and work for smart, high-percentage shots.

But this year’s adjusted offensive efficiency has Wisconsin on an entirely new level. Last year’s team, for example, finished with the highest efficiency rating of any in Ryan’s 13 seasons (120.8) and ranked fourth in the country. That team also averaged 73.5 points per game — the highest in the Ryan era. This year’s team, which averages 73.6 points per game, has an adjusted offensive efficiency rating that is 2.7 points better. Plus, the Badgers’ 1.20 points-per-possession is on pace to set a new record with Ryan in charge.

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Here’s a look at Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings under Ryan:

This year’s team, in particular, happens to be playing exceptionally smart basketball and features a core group that played in the Final Four a year ago. Wisconsin’s five starters all rank in the top 12 in the Big Ten for offensive efficiency, according to Pomeroy’s numbers. Josh Gasser leads the Big Ten in that area, Nigel Hayes is fourth, Bronson Koenig fifth, Frank Kaminsky ninth and Sam Dekker 12th. As a means of comparison, there are eight Big Ten teams that don’t have a single player in the top 12.

"We’ve got five guys that can score on the court and we’re unselfish," Dekker said. "I think take guys away from this program and put them on other teams, I think all their numbers are elevated. But since we’re all on the court at the same time, we’ve all bought in to being unselfish and playing with each other.

"We don’t have a problem sharing the ball and letting a guy get his shot and get hot. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes us tough to stop. You can’t just focus on one guy. You’ve got to focus on five at a time. Not a whole lot of teams have that."

Wisconsin’s overall offensive efficiency during conference-only games — simply, points per 100 possessions — is a staggering 126.4, which far and away leads the Big Ten. The gap is nearly 15 points greater than second-place Ohio State (111.5).

The numbers do not signify that Wisconsin plays any faster than it has in years past. In fact, Wisconsin’s average offensive possession length of 20.4 seconds ranks 336th out of 351 Division I teams. What it means is the Badgers simply make the absolute most out of those limited number of possessions per game (60.8).

One of the reasons Wisconsin is so efficient is because it ranks sixth nationally in two-point field-goal percentage (56.4 percent), 25th in free-throw percentage (74.2), first in fewest percentage of offensive shots blocked (3.7 percent) and fifth in percentage of offensive plays resulting in steals (6.4 percent). The Badgers also commit fewer turnovers than any team in the nation.

"With the efficiency thing, it’s how every practice is run," Kaminsky said. "It’s all points per possession-based. We want to hold the other team to below one point per possession. We want to be well over one point per possession. So if you practice that way like we do, that’s kind of the results you expect in a game."

We don’t have a problem sharing the ball and letting a guy get his shot and get hot. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes us tough to stop.

Sam Dekker

None of this guarantees Wisconsin will be cutting down the nets in April as national champions, of course. But the numbers indicate the Badgers, based on their machine-like efficiency, will give themselves as good of an opportunity as any team in the country.

"The main thing is we’re experienced and we’re unselfish," Gasser said. "Any time you’re that, you’re going to get good looks."

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