Tuesday, March 31, 2009

2008-2009 Season: What Went Wrong?

With the mild disappointment that was the 2008-2009 Badger season, the question arises, what went wrong? Granted the team lost major contributors in Brian Butch, Michael Flowers, and Greg Stiemsma, but in years previous Bo Ryan's teams have reloaded rather than rebuilt. Their best NCAA tournament finish was in the season after Devin Harris left early for the NBA. They had a school record 31 victories last season after losing All-American, NBA-bound Alando Tucker and all-conference, Europe-bound Kam Taylor.

- Luck was one of the deciding factors in their sub-par record... Now hear me out on this one. It sounds like an excuse, but Wisconsin was on the wrong side of a last second shot the majority of the time this season (save Iowa, Virginia Tech, and Florida State). According to Ken Pomeroy's calculated statistic of luck (or variance from expected record), Wisconsin ranked 297th out of 344 teams. If you think about it, it makes sense. The home overtime loss to Minnesota would've ended in a Wisconsin victory in regulation if J-Bo's blocked lay-up is rightfully called a goaltend, Westbrook misses one out of the many contested 3s and twisting lay-ups in the final minutes of the game, or if Wisconsin shoots just 25% from 3 rather than 21%. Same thing for the Iowa game. If the foul on Jordan Taylor's lay-up is called, it's a 7 point swing in the game since Bo doesn't get a technical. You give them a small bit of luck like that in every single game in that 6-game losing streak, and you're looking at a team that might've entered the Big Ten tournament with a record of 23-7 instead of 19-11.

- Defense... I believe the main tangible thing missing from this team was a shot blocker in the middle of the paint. Throughout the whole season, the best post defender Wisconsin had was Marcus Landry. That isn't good when they play many teams that have small forwards bigger than Marcus. A telling tale of this was in the Xavier tournament game, 6'10" forward Jon Leuer was guarding a 6'6" guard, and Landry guarded the 7'0" center.

Nevertheless, this team's defense gave up a significantly higher percentage from inside the arc than they did last season (49% compared to 41.7%). They also forced less than turnovers (19.3% turnover ratio to 21.4%) and let their opponent go to the free throw line much more often (34.1 FT rate to 25.4). The only thing they improved on was grabbing more of the rebounds on the defensive (73.7% from 71.3%), however they were already elite at that last season (9th in the nation last season and 4th this season). Overall, they were ranked as the 50th best defense in the nation, giving up 0.959 PPP. While that is well below the cut-off of 1.000 for a good defense, it pales in comparison to the previous five seasons, where the defenses finished with an overall PPP above 0.882 (ranked 13th) only once (2006 when the team lost Landry and Stiemsma halfway through the season).

What is an easy target that I will not pick on as much is the offense. The offense is always the scapegoat in a loss. I've never heard anyone say, "I wish our defense held them to less points", it's always, "Our offense needs to score more". It's not that easy and I've always held the believe that it is easier to be a great defensive team than it is to be a great offensive team. This season's offense scored a very efficient 1.126 PPP, which was good for 36th best in the nation (previous seasons were 28th, 26th, 46th, 30th, and 13th respectively). What this offense lacked in shooting percentage from the floor (179th in 2-pt shooting and 89th in 3-pt) and ability to get to the free throw line (214th), they made up for it in extreme lack of turnovers. There were only 4 teams in the entire nation that turned the ball over less often than the Badgers. These lack of turnovers converted into extra shots, which made up for their only average shooting ability inside the arc. This is not to say that the offense was devoid of fault... I just think the majority of the blame should fall on the defense and the Milwaukee Brewers, hogging all of Wisconsin sports' allotted luck.

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