Projecting Defense: Wisconsin

Posted by on November 3, 2014

Last week I wrote about the surprising lack of improvement made by experienced teams from year to year on the defensive side of the ball. When thinking about potential teams affected by this for the 2014-15 season, Wisconsin is the first that comes to mind. Of course the Badgers are going to be very good this year. Bo Ryan brings back the entire Final Four squad with the exception of Ben Brust. However, Wisconsin has a chance to completely distance themselves from the rest of the Big Ten with an improved defense.
Wisconsin ranked just 49th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. I found last week that experience alone hasn’t exactly translated to better defensive results in the following season (quite the opposite acutally). Regardless, I would be very surprised if Wisconsin doesn’t take a big step forward at getting stops in 2014-15. In my post I speculated that coaching might be the biggest factor in defensive improvement from one year to the next. There’s little reason to doubt that Bo Ryan won’t have his team much improved this season. Since 2002, Bo Ryan has never been outside of the top 30 in AdjD in back to back seasons.
We more or less know what to expect from the Wisconsin defense this season. The Badgers don’t try to turn you over, don’t let you get offensive rebounds, and don’t put you on the foul line. With those three things all relatively constant each year, the swing factor that turns a Wisconsin defense from good to great is the ability to protect the rim.
Last year Wisconsin started three guards listed 6’3″ or under in Jackson, Gasser, and Brust. The 6’7″ Nigel Hayes will likely replace Brust in this year’s starting lineup. Combine the length of Hayes with a reported two inch growth spurt for Sam Dekker and the Badgers should have a nice mix of size and versatility.

Area for Improvement: Defending Pick and Rolls

Opponents consistently looked to take Frank Kaminsky away from the basket last season by forcing him to defend pick and rolls. Bo Ryan chose to not hedge ball screens, having Kaminsky drop back while the man guarding the ball worked hard to get over the screen. Take a look at the typical Wisconsin pick and roll coverage here:
Keeping Kaminsky back makes a lot of sense in today’s analytics-inspired game of being fine with allowing long twos. The idea here is that you live with the ball handler taking a 16 foot pull-up jumper in favor of letting Kaminsky protect the rim.
We have seen a version of this pick and roll defense become extremely popular in the NBA called ICE. There is a major difference between Wisconsin’s defense and ICE that caused the Badgers to really struggle defending the roll man last year. In ICE, the man guarding the ball does not let the ball handler get to the middle of the court. Once he sees the pick coming, the defender jumps above the screen forcing the dribbler baseline. By keeping the ball on the baseline, this allows the weak-side defender(s) to help of his man and protect the hoop. Conversely, Wisconsin allows the ball handler into the middle of the court. This means there aren’t really¬†any weak-side defenders and Kaminsky was often faced with a very tough task of being partially responsible for the ball handler and completely responsible for the roll man.
Take a look here at how easily Michigan State is able to find the big rolling to the hoop (Costello) by getting the ball into the middle and spacing the court:
Any decently creative offensive set ending with a pick and roll to the middle was bound to give Wisconsin trouble last season. Here Iowa runs a really nice play on the left side with the entire side open for the roll man:
By using the misdirection (screening to the outside before re-screening to the middle), Iowa made Jackson’s job that much harder of getting over the ball screen and recovering to Marble. This forced Hayes to commit just a bit too much to Marble, who found Olaseni for the easy basket.
Of course it’s not just the selected coverage at fault here, Duje Dukan’s lack of execution in rotating over is also at fault. However, I really think Wisconsin would benefit from changing to ICE. It’s hard to question Bo Ryan with his stellar track record, but Wisconsin’s ball screen defense is at least something to keep an eye on this season.

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