More Variance! Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Three

Ethan Miller

Is there something wild and beautiful in the way the Badgers play? Absolutely.

That was a fun Saturday, am I right? The Badgers at their cold, efficient best. And Illinois just never got out of the blocks. And the neat trick? The threes were falling early and often. We could afford to relax quickly, and if you look at the game thread? You'll notice there was some trepidation going in.

And despite that fact? I was relaxed. And this isn't some sort of man of science thing. Because when there's some actual science to the matter, I'm not going to self-proclaim too much. I'm not going to emulate my comedy hero Skip Bayless on this one.

Like most who were in college in the early to middle part of the last decade? I'm someone who fell in with the ranks of playing that Texas Hold 'Em. And I had fun with it. Got pretty good as well. But as my friend Adam always loves to remind me? I get emotionally involved in my recreational activities.

Yes, I'm a controller thrower. I'm someone who couldn't handle the slings and arrows of outrageous game fortune because that damnable Cut Man cheats. But I'm getting off topic.

Because since the days before Stan Van Gundy became a quality NBA coach, the Badgers have always been something of a high variance team. Dick Bennett played at a pace that was only fun when the clock read double zeros. And while Bo Ryan's a little faster? He's not fast enough to escape the trolls who are all like LOL slow team.

But here's the thing. You have a team that's more physically gifted, and you limit their possessions? It puts you in position to win games that you're not supposed to. I mean, you figure Bucky plays at an average speed, they can go into Columbus and win? It's less likely.

Yet, after the struggle that went down midway through the 2008-2009 season, Bo Ryan did something you'd think a conservative coach would never do. He actually decided to shoot more threes.

Season Three Point Attempts National Ranking
2012-2013 351 62nd
2011-2012 775 17th
2010-2011 744 30th
2009-2010 690 59th
2008-2009 592 144th

The amazing thing? Wisconsin actually attempted 50 more threes in 2009-2010 than he did in any of the previous seven seasons. (And in 2004-2005 he had a team that sank 39 percent of its shots from beyond the arc.) And the surprising thing? There really hasn't been much difference in seasonal percentage. 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 have had a .374 and .368 shooting percentage respectively. But the Badgers have usually shot 35 to 36 percent from beyond the arc.

So what does this mean? The Badgers play one of the more risky styles of basketball in the NCAA. When it works? You'll see them go up and get somebody they're not supposed to. You'll see other fan bases get frustrated by the outsider art that is Badger Basketball. You'll get excited for the tournament.

And here's where the problems can set in. I mean, you saw some ugly tournament performances under the slow pace of Dick Bennett (Southwest-now just-Missouri State) and it's not as if Brad Soderberg opened the throttle (so we can credit that Georgia State debacle to it as well). It's happened under Bo Ryan, too (Davidson, Cornell ... that Butler game). It can be frustrating. It can be frustrating as heck. But somewhere along the way, I was okay with it. Because here's the big epiphany I realized.

A high-variance style in a single elimination tournament will rarely fall as expected.

Not exactly the most drop to your knees, arms outstretched, head tilted back, screaming at the heavens in a rainstorm brainwaves to ever hit me, but it did give me a sense of peace. You'll see the team have to fight for 40 minutes to beat Wofford, and you'll see the team find a way to go into an essential road game against Syracuse and be one shot away from glory.

And like a still photo where sunglasses slowly emerge upon it, I can deal with it. Two reasons why. One, there's always going to be the chance that the Badgers get hot in March. All it takes is one guy channeling Jon Bryant (Ben Brust?) and memories will be made.

Two? The prediction for the Indiana game could very well be pain. And even the kindest probability numbers don't give us a great chance of victory in this one. But you know what? The style allows the Badgers to consistently find a way to jump up and get a regular season game they're not supposed to.

It's unlikely. Absolutely unlikely. But if there's anything Bo knows how to do well it's lay a bad beat on Tom Crean.

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