Considering some of the glaring weaknesses the 2010-11 Wisconsin Badgers had - lack of consistent post-play, lack of depth and a bad habit of living-and-dying by the three - it's safe to say it was a bit of an overachieving season in Madison, Wis.
Some would argue the Badgers overachieve every year under Bo Ryan, whose Sweet 16 record fell to 1-3 with UW's 61-54 loss to Butler Thursday night in New Orleans. Others would argue Wisconsin can do better. After all, the Badgers did have the sixth-best scoring tandem in the nation entering Thursday's game as Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor came in averaging a combined 36.7 points per game.
Unfortunately, as simple as it sounds, Wisconsin's season was undone by the same problem that reared its ugly head all season: making shots. When the Badgers made shots, they won. And sometimes they won big, like when Wisconsin shot 59 percent overall and beat Michigan State 82-56 Feb. 6. But in stark contrast, the Badgers could also go frighteningly cold, like when they shot 29 percent in the Big Ten quarterfinals and lost 36-33 to Penn State March 11.
Overall, the Badgers were exactly what their 25-9 record indicates: a pretty good team that was not talented enough to win its conference and sometimes lost to inferior talent because of inconsistencies.
It's simple: Bo Ryan wins because of his tricky system. The Badgers end the season ranked first in the nation in both assist-to-turnover ratio (1.71) and free throw percentage (81.8 percent). They also entered Thursday night's Sweet 16 contest fourth in the country in defense (58.5 points allowed per game). Those are the numbers that allowed Wisconsin to win 25 games and reach the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, it's the lack of offense at times that prevented UW from going further.
Looking ahead to next season
It won't be easy to replace senior forward Jon Leuer whose 621 points in the 2010-11 season rank third all-time on UW's single season scoring list. The Badgers also lose senior forward Keaton Nankivil who shot 45.7 percent from three this season and was UW's best post-defender.
But neither player was particularly strong in the post on offense and that's an area Wisconsin could improve next season if current sophomore Jared Berggren or freshman Evan Anderson - who redshirted this season - prove to be ready to play significant minutes. Still, that seems to be asking a lot from two players who were hardly depended on this season.
What's more likely to happen is an increased offensive load put on sophomore Mike Bruesewitz and freshman Josh Gasser who both combined for 43 starts in the 2010-11 season. Indeed, next year's Badgers will be a guard-oriented team led by senior Jordan Taylor, the team's best player who tallied 617 points this season. Taylor is a Bob Cousy Award finalist this season and could be a preseason first-team All-American selection next fall.
Without Leuer and Nankivil, it may be a challenge for the Badgers to reach another Sweet 16 next year, but with Taylor running the show, a 14th straight NCAA Tournament appearance could be on the horizon for the Badgers in 2012.
- Wisconsin's loss to Butler marks the fifth straight season the Badgers were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by a non-BCS school.
- Wisconsin made only 13-of-19 free throws against Butler, which cost them the all-time NCAA record for highest team free throw percentage in a season. The Badgers entered Thursday night's game with an 82.3 percent mark from the stripe, just barely ahead of the record Harvard set in 1984 with a free throw percentage of 82.2. Wisconsin's struggles from the line Thursday night brought their team free throw percentage down to 81.8 percent on the season, which is still tops in the nation and the best in school history.
- Jon Leuer finished his career at Wisconsin with only three points on 1-of-12 shooting against Butler, ending a streak of 40 straight games with at least 10 points.