1. Wisconsin is a more complete team
The 2012-13 Badgers finished No. 1 defense in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings. However, they also finished 108th in offensive efficiency. As expected, the Badgers have improved drastically on offense and through three games this year rank 18th, while sacrificing some defense in coming in at 14th.
The improved offense is a product of several factors, including the return of Josh Gasser and the emergence of Duje Dukan as an offensive threat. Collectively, the Badgers display the confidence to score from every player on the court, something that was missing from last year’s squad. The increased offensive assertiveness results in more turnovers than Badgers fans are accustomed to seeing.
Ultimately, this team has the horsepower to score with any team in the country, as evidenced by the 86 points scored against St. John’s in just 65 possessions -- a scorching 1.32 points per possession. Conversely, the Badgers are still good enough on defense to "win ugly." Frank Kaminsky is picking up where Jared Berggren left off protecting the rim. Kaminsky had four blocks against Green Bay, including a timely block in the last minute on Phoenix point guard Keifer Sykes to help seal the win. The Badgers have already been tested against top competition and displayed a versatile attack that will pay dividends in March.
2. Sam Dekker is still on the verge of breaking out
Approaching one of the more anticipated sophomore years in recent UW basketball history, Dekker was expected to be the alpha dog capable of single-handedly carrying the team to victory. Dekker has demonstrated a willingness to take the big shot and clearly wants the pressure of being the go-to guy. After St. John’s cut Wisconsin's lead to four points in the second half, Dekker hit a three-pointer to end the Red Storm rally and re-assert control of the game for Wisconsin. Against Florida, he nailed back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half to get the Badgers back from an early deficit.
Despite those big moments, Dekker has not quite arrived as a big-time playmaker. To begin with, Dekker will need to finish better around the rim. He has left a handful of easy points on the table after missing layups. Dekker has an incredible scoring knack, so over the season I expect more of those shots to fall. Most importantly, though, Dekker must improve his free throw shooting. He is one of the best players on the team at drawing fouls and too sound of a shooter to be just over 50 percent (7-of-13) from the foul line. If Dekker can improve on those two aspects, there is no question he will be one of the better players in the conference.
3. Where has all the depth gone?
So far this year, the Badgers have relied heavily on Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, Gasser and Dekker to play a majority of minutes. Bo Ryan typically splits minutes fairly evenly among the top eight players, with most in the 15-to-25-minute range and one or two players over 30. Yet Brust, Gasser and Dekker are all averaging over 30 minutes a game and Jackson would be over 30 as well had he not been limited by foul trouble against Green Bay.
With Gasser only a year removed from major knee surgery and still taking days off from practice to avoid overuse, the Badgers will need more contributions from reserve players to keep their legs fresh. Against Florida, Wisconsin scored just 12 points in the game’s final 12 minutes, shot just 2-of-11 from the field with five turnovers and looked exhausted. George Marshall, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Dukan need to demonstrate they can be counted on to play longer stretches.
4. Freshmen have emerged
Hayes and Koenig have taken advantage of playing time early to show they belong and should earn themselves more playing time. Hayes has taken advantage limited frontcourt depth to establish himself as the first player off the bench and one of the Badgers' few post options on offense. Hayes still needs to work on defense and not picking up cheap fouls, but so far he has been the most impressive freshman in this year’s class.
Koenig, meanwhile, is probably the team’s best ball handler and stepped in for an injured Marshall against Green Bay to contribute an efficient seven points and two assists in 23 minutes. He is most effective in the pick-and-roll and does a nice job of delivering the ball in a good position for teammates to score. Both Hayes and Koenig look comfortable on the court in big moments and will only get better as the season progresses.
More from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
- Badgers preparing for biggest Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry game in years
- North Dakota vs. Wisconsin preview: Busy stretch begins for Badgers
- Wisconsin football schedule: Getting to know Minnesota
- Opponent Watch: Minnesota hates you
- K Rafael Gagilanone becomes Wisconsin's 20th commitment for 2014
- 2013 WIAA Playoffs: Wisconsin commits Jaden Gault, Billy Hirschfeld, Joe Panos advance to state finals