Wisconsin and the free throw line: A love story

Wisconsin basketball established a reputation under Bo Ryan in the past decade. The Badgers made more free throws than their opponents attempted four times in a six-year span, starting in 2002. Those just so happened to be four of the program's most successful seasons ever.

According to Ken Pomeroy, 33% of Wisconsin's points came from 3-pointers last season, up from 30.3% during the 2009 season. This percentage has increased each year since 2007, coinciding perfectly with the arrival of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon in the fall of '06. You would expect the percentage of points off free throws to decline during such a trend. And it did. More notably, however, the free throw benchmark for excellence under Ryan also diminished.

In each of the last two seasons, Big Ten opponents have actually made more freebies than Wisconsin. During that time the Badgers have lacked a consistent go-to scorer that poses a serious matchup problem. Thus, Wisconsin relied more on bombing treys than taking the ball inside. Not exactly nirvana for the Swing offense, which relies on exploiting opponents' mistakes and creating mismatches.

As the 2010-11 season gets underway, there's reason to expect a shift back to the old Wisconsin ways.

Despite Hughes' late-game heroics, his free throw rate (100*FTA/FGA) dropped each year of his career. Conversely, both Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor improved their FTRate last season. Leuer is a bonafide go-to scorer that will create headaches for opposing defenses, something we haven't seen since Alando Tucker. Jared Berggren should team with Leuer and Keaton Nankivil to provide quality outside shooting from the frontcourt. This should also open up the block for other players to score on the interior. In particular, both Rob Wilson and Josh Gasser have the ability to post up effectively from the guard position.

Even though 3-point shooting is a glaring uncertainty for UW right now, the supporting cast might be able to get to the line more often by capitalizing on versatility and mismatches. For example, Rob Wilson's FTRate has been relatively high in his first two seasons (So: 34.4, Fr: 83.3). Guys like Wilson, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, who will see some of the biggest jumps in their playing time, have an aggressive style of play that could lead to more free throw opportunities. Even Gasser was known for getting to the line a lot in high school and once there, never missing.

As Jake pointed out Wednesday night, though, no one in the backcourt really distinguished themselves in the final exhibition game. With Wilson out of action, here is how the minutes panned out:

Player Min FG-FGA 3P-3PA FT-FTA Reb Asst Stl Blk Pts TO PF
Wquinton Smith 23 2-5 1-2 1-3 2 5 0 0 6 2 1
Josh Gasser 17 1-2 0-1 2-2 1 0 0 0 4 1 2
Ben Brust 12 0-2 0-1 1-2 2 2 1 0 1 2 0
Ryan Evans 11 1-1 0-0 0-0 2 0 0 2 2 1 5
Tim Jarmusz 10 1-1 1-1 0-2 0 0 2 0 3 0 2

 And for both games, listed by average minutes played:

Player MPG FG-FGA 3P-3PA FT-FTA Reb Asst Stl Blk Pts TO PF
Josh Gasser 18.5 4-8 1-4 4-4 5 1 0 0 13 1 2
Wquinton Smith 18.5 2-6 1-3 2-5 3 6 1 0 7 2 2
Ryan Evans 13.5 2-6 0-1 3-4 6 3 0 2 7 1 5
Tim Jarmusz 13 3-3 2-2 0-2 5 0 3 0 8 2 2
Ben Brust 9 2-5 0-2 1-2 3 3 1 0 5 2 0
Rob Wilson* 5 0-2 0-2 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Brust, along with Duje Dukan, will not be in the regular rotation this season. But they can provide the outside shooting capabilities that this year's team might be lacking. Both players will be great assets down the road when you combine them with the four player who inked national letters of intent this week.

In case you missed it, Benet Academy (IL) center Frank Kaminsky said he was excited to head to the Big Ten along with high school teammate David Sobolewski (Northwestern) and called signing day the "icing on the cake." The Sun-Times also quoted George Marshall on how having other Illinois players come to Wisconsin was a factor in his own decision. Ryan compared Marshall to Kam Taylor.

Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa is the highest ranked prospect in the 2011 class and could be a nice playmaker from the wing or inside. All four guys should fit nicely within Ryan's swing system. There are two big guys who can shoot and/or handle on the perimeter along with a point guard and a powerful guard, Traevon Jackson, who can post up regardless of his height. Ryan acknowledged the great IQs of this group, both in the classroom and on the court, thanks to three of the four players having close family members with high-level playing experience, highlighted by Jackson's father, Jim.

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