Bo’s Badgers one of nation’s best in points per possession

This season, the Badgers are averaging a Big Ten-best 1.23 points per possession, their highest in the Bo Ryan era.

Mary Langenfeld/Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. — When Bo Ryan was an assistant coach at Wisconsin in the late 1970s, he began tracking a statistic known as points per possession. At the time, he said, an actual name for the idea did not yet exist. But in talking with colleagues, he realized the importance of quantifying how many times a team achieved something in a positive way relative to the number of offensive possessions in each game.

Over the next four decades, Ryan continued to ingrain the value of points per possession. Take care of the ball, give up a good shot to get a better shot, and that number likely increases. Don’t stress about missing 1 of 2 free-throw attempts because the team still comes away with one point on the possession.

During Ryan’s 13-year tenure as the Badgers’ head coach, his teams have consistently ranked near the national leaders by limiting turnovers, making smart decisions and taking open shots. This year’s team, however, is pushing the limits of points-per-possession to an entirely new level.

According to STATS, Inc., Wisconsin is averaging a Big Ten-best 1.23 points per possession, and the Badgers also are averaging 1.26 points per possession in three conference games.

To put into perspective how impressive that feat is, consider that no Wisconsin team has ever tallied better than 1.16 points per possession in the Ryan era. Eight of the past 12 teams have averaged below 1.0 points.

It’s no wonder, then, why Wisconsin is off to the best start in program history (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten) and ranked third in the latest Associated Press and coaches top 25 polls.

"We’re obviously making a few more shots," Ryan said Monday. "Stats will tell you that. I think we’ve been very opportunistic. We’ve also been in some low scoring games as well as higher scoring games. And I think still it’s about the points per possession, what you’re getting. If you can get them at the free throw line, if you can get them with 3s, with the extra point, the and-ones in the post. I just think this team so far has been a little more opportunistic and a little more accurate overall. Stats will tell you that. It’s not an opinion. It’s just stats."

Indeed, Wisconsin’s numbers are up across the board because the Badgers are shooting the ball at a far greater clip. UW ranks No. 29 nationally in 3-point field goal accuracy (39.8 percent). A year ago, the Badgers ranked 212th and shot 33.0 percent from 3. UW also ranked No. 239 in field-goal accuracy (42.0 percent). This year, the Badgers are tied for 62nd in that category (47.2 percent).

The increased shooting percentage has Wisconsin averaging 76.4 points per game. The Badgers have not even averaged 73.0 points in a season since 1994-95.

All of the numbers, Ryan will note, come back to points per possession. And during the grind of the Big Ten season, when every possession counts in a tight game, it could mean the difference between a few extra wins or losses.

Ryan said the magic line for points per possession used to be 1.0 before the advent of the 3-point line, which moved the number to 1.1.

"The 1.1 points per possession will be in the 90th percentile of winning games," Ryan said. "As long as defensively you’re getting things done at the other end and you’re not allowing more than .95. If you’re holding people under .95 and you’re at 1.1, that would do you well for a season if you could do that."

Sure enough, Wisconsin’s defense is allowing .96 points per possession this season, according to STATS, Inc., which ranks fifth in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin’s offense should be tested when it travels to face Indiana (11-5, 1-2) at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Though the Hoosiers are averaging 80.2 points per game, they allow just .94 points per possession defensively, which ranks fourth in the conference.

Ryan simply hopes to see more of the same from his offense, as it continues on a record-breaking pace.

"They’ve stayed true to who they are," Ryan said. "They’re sharing the ball. We’ve said this so many times, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. But they’re doing a lot of things where they’re helping their teammates get open, the dribble drives. The help comes on the decision on when to make the pass, when to ball fake, when to make the extra pass.

"To this point, overall, they’ve been doing a better job of that than maybe some other teams that we’ve had, which has put them in a position to be sitting where we are. We’re going to have to keep doing it."

Crean on Bo: Indiana coach Tom Crean was asked about his relationship with Ryan Monday during the Big Ten coaches teleconference, and he offered high praise. Ryan’s Badgers have beaten the Hoosiers 12 consecutive times. Crean has lost all 10 games since he took over at Indiana and is 3-14 all-time dating to his days at Marquette.

"I have great respect for him," Crean said. "I always have. I think what I respect about him is he’s one of the great competitors around. I think he’d be the kind of person that would compete in anything and want to win. I think you have to respect that more than anything else. He’s always been very gracious to me. I hope he would feel for the most part I have been with him.

"I have tremendous respect for that entire program. And that’s a team when you watch him coach and when you watch them play, you absolutely see his competitiveness. You see his diligence. All those attributes that you would want to say that’s what a great team looks like. I think you can start with Bo and that’s what a great coach looks like."

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Crean, some might recall, was less than cordial after Wisconsin upset then-No. 2 Indiana 64-59 last season in Assembly Hall. He brushed by Ryan with a quick and cold post-game handshake, which quickly made the Internet rounds.

Moving up: Wisconsin climbed one spot to No. 3 in the national polls and is one of just four undefeated teams remaining in Division I college basketball. The others are: No. 1 Arizona (17-0), No. 2 Syracuse (16-0) and No. 5 Wichita State (17-0).

The Badgers rank No. 1 in the NCAA’s official Ratings Percentage Index, owning three victories against AP top 25 teams and six wins against the RPI top 50 — the most in the country.

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