It's hard to believe that we're already nearing the start of Big Ten play for the Badgers basketball team. Before Wisconsin puts out the welcome mat for Nebraska to open up conference play for the 1st time for the Huskers let's take a look back at the non-conference portion of the season and see what it's been able to tell us about the good, bad, or ugly of this Badgers team.
Before getting to the GBU of the season so far, let's take a stroll down memory lane a bit and see what we thought might happen at the beginning of the season, shall we? You can find our position preview's here and here.
As of this writing Wisconsin sits at #11 in both of the AP and Coaches Polls with an 11-2 record. They are up four and three spots depending on the poll from where they started in the preseason rankings and it seems about right in a year where teams have really been playing hot potato with getting top billing in the polls.
Polls are fine and all, but the measurables that matter to making the NCAA tournament are a bit more important. Wisconsin has an RPI of 25th, according to realtimerpi.com, and a strength of schedule of 52nd. The Badgers are also the #1 team in the nation according to KenPom.com (the most accurate statistical measure of NCAA qualifying teams in the nation).
So, with all the off the court stuff out of the way, let's get to the nitty gritty of where Wisconsin stands, the stats!
PPG: 68.2 (180th nationally)
FG %: 45.6% (7th B1G, 102nd nationally)
FT %: 69.6% (7th, 157th)
Assist/Turnover: 1.57 (2nd, 5th)
Turnovers Forced/Game: 13.2
PPG: Jared Berggren (12.5)
RPG: Ryan Evans (7.0)
APG: Jordan Taylor (5.0)
BPG: Ryan Evans (1.5), Jared Berggren (1.4)
SPG: Jared Berggren (1.5), Ryan Evans (1.2)
Assists/Turnover Ratio: Jordan Taylor (3.15) *2nd in B1G to Roy Deyvn Marble's 3.70
With the 11-2 record you'd imagine that there's been some highlights, lowlights, and much in between and you'd be right. So here are the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the non-conference season for Wisconsin.
- Berggren's big leap: Jared Berggren leads the team in scoring, something most assumed would go to Jordan Taylor and it still may end up that way, but not one person I know thought at this point we'd see Berggren on top of that leader board. He's been a force inside on the defensive end of the court and is 2nd to Ryan Evans in rebounds. He's also shown to have athletic skills we didn't see last year on both ends of the court by blocking shots, rebounding like crazy, and leading the team in steals. Berggren is nearly averaging 10 points more a game now that he is starting and has been getting better with each start on the year.
- 11-2 without Jordan Taylor's best effort: Wisconsin hasn't had a game where Jordan Taylor has really taken over and just willed the Badgers to a win. In the three hardest games for Wisconsin Taylor has given us his best efforts scoring 18 against BYU, 18 against UNC, and 13 against Marquette. However Taylor has needed a ton of shots to do it and in the BYU and UNC games he wasn't the only person to stand out. He's been far more willing to sit back and allow his teammates to get involved in most cases through the non-conference schedule.
- DEFENSE: Wisconsin ranks #1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 44.7ppg as a team. The Badgers D is also only allowing teams to shoot 33.5% from the field, ranking 1st in the nation as well. They have also held 11 of the 13 teams they have faced to their season low in points. The other 2 teams were held to their 2nd lowest point totals of their seasons. I'd say that's pretty solid defense, I don't care who the competition is or isn't.
- Emergence of Evans: With a very young frontcourt coming into the season a lot of pressure was placed on the shoulders of Ryan Evans. He's flashed periods of being great at times in the past, but has never been able to put it together on both ends of the floor. Well, he's answered the bell and then some in the non-conference season. He's currently averaging 9.9ppg, 7rpg, and is shooting 45.3% from the field, up from a terrible 31.1% last season. It's also becoming clear that the team really feeds off of his effort on defense and offense. The game that really jumps out is the Milwaukee game where you saw Evans go cold in the 2nd half as the Panthers made a huge run at the Badgers before Taylor took over the very end of the game. Evans had 16 points and 8 boards, but none came in the final 15 minutes of the game and that coincided with the Panthers run in the 2nd half.
- Lost to only ranked opponents: Bucky dropped it's only 2 games against ranked opponents back to back. They lost to then #5 UNC on the road and then on Dec. 3rd, a day that will live in our Badgers memories forever, they dropped a home game to bitter in-state rival and at that time #16 ranked Marquette. Not a good sign if you asked me, especially since they were 2 of the 3 tests that the Badgers faced (UNLV was the other) and they failed them both in bad fashion.
- Streaky shooting: If there was a culprit in the last "Bad" it was streaky shooting. The Badgers couldn't hit from distance or up close. Jordan Taylor needed 20 shots to get his 18 points in the UNC game as well.
- nothing from Evan Anderson: Anderson is the tallest player on the Badgers roster and he redshirted last season to put on weight and was hoping to be a force off the bench but he's spent most of his time on the bench and hasn't really done much of anything. He has only averaged 3.1 minutes per game, 0.4 points per game, and has more personal fouls (9) than rebounds (7). It's disappointing for sure but I'm holding out hope he does a Brian Butch on us and becomes a force by his senior season.
- Free Throw Shooting: This was a huge difference maker for the Badgers in their loss to UNC and on the year the Badgers are shooting only 69.7% as a team. You might think it's a product of the youth, but that doesn't hold much water as Ben Brust (78.6%) and Jared Berggren (77.8%) lead the team in FT shooting. I can't really put my finger on it because it's usually been the biggest strength of a Bo Ryan coached team.
As we close in on the Nebraska game tomorrow night I'm not 100% sure we know what to expect from this team. They've been dominate at times, but it's been against teams they should've beaten. They've struggled to shoot from deep at times, and that's cost us games (UNC and Marquette). If we can be consistent from deep this 2011-12 Big Ten season will be a great one. However, if we're caught on a bad night shooting against teams like Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, etc., we could be in for a long, LONG season.
In the end I think we'll see Jordan Taylor show us why he was a Wooden Award Watch List candidate and a pre season All-American and lead this team to the top 3 of the Big Ten in the regular season. I don't think another run to the Sweet 16 or beyond is out of reach with this team, but again I could also see us "bombing" out early as well. Catch me in a few weeks and I think we'll know exactly where this team stands in probably the thoughest year in the Big Ten in the past 10-15 years for sure.