A 12-0 start to the season has some fans, and even a few opposing coaches, calling this year's Wisconsin team Bo Ryan's best edition yet. But Ryan has had some great teams before, including back-to-back 30-win squads in 2007 and 2008.
Returning almost every single contributor from a disappointing 2005-06 team, the 2006-07 team jumped out to a 21-1 start thanks to a single-season record 17-game winning streak. Led by senior All-American Alando Tucker, the Badgers reached their first No. 1 ranking in the polls and finished 30-6 overall. How does that team look when the individual pieces are compared to this year's undefeated group?
First a few administrative points of clarity: players were matched based on KenPom.com usage rate and relative role within the team, though not all were perfect. The 2006-2007 team spent 17 weeks inside the AP Poll top ten and 13 in the top five, earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year the Badgers have spent four weeks in the AP top ten and two in the top five. On to the comparisons!
Alando Tucker vs. Sam Dekker
At first glance this comparison is lopsided. Tucker was a two-time All-Big Ten First Team player and Badgers all-time leading scorer. Not to mention everything that was enjoyable during the Tucker era. From the high flying dunks, to rocking the plastic face mask, watching Alando play was as enjoyable as it gets.
But looking at the KenPom numbers shows the two have similar offensive rating with Dekker having a slight edge in effective field goal percentage and defensive rebounding. Field goal shooting should not be a surprise. Tucker was never a consistent outside shooter, but it was surprising to see Dekker have the rebounding edge also. Credit Sam for his recent emergence as a rebounder, he has shown continued improvement in all areas of play to go along with his scoring ability.
Tucker played more minutes and was more of a focal point within the offense using 31 percent of UW's possessions compared to 24 percent for Dekker. He also shot free throws at an extremely high rate, a hallmark of the "Badgers make more free throws than the other team attempts" mantra.
At this point any Badger fan would take Tucker over Dekker. But the fact that we can compare a fifth-year senior, First Team All-American, to a player 12 games into his sophomore year without laughable results bodes well for Sam Dekker and Badger hoops.
Advantage: Alando Tucker, 2007
Kammron Taylor vs. Traevon Jackson
Comparing point guards under Bo Ryan is a little bit like comparing your favorite Christmas candy: it really doesn’t matter which one you choose, it’s all good. Taylor and Jackson align closer than most. Both liked to have the ball in their hands and at times frustratingly forced shots when seemingly better offensive players were available (see Alpha Dogs above).
But they also showed up biggest with the game on the line. Who can forget Kammron Taylor’s game winner over Michigan State in his last game at the Kohl Center? Jackson meanwhile has four G-WIT (game-winning + game-icing + game-tying shots, as coined by B5Q’s very own Phil Mitten) through two seasons. Taylor was more of a pure shooter, but Jackson is a superior rebounder and facilitator. Jackson gets the nod here with his ability to affect games without having to score.
Advantage: Traevon Jackson, 2014
Brian Butch vs. Frank Kaminsky
The KenPom numbers bear out what eye test can confirm: Kaminsky has developed into an incredibly efficient offensive player. While Butch and Kaminsky are comfortable shooting it outside, Kaminsky has really improved his post scoring. As a result his offensive rating and effective field goal percentage have jumped this season.
One area where Butch has a significant advantage is rebounding on both ends of the court. Although Kaminsky has improved here as well, Butch was as dominate on the glass as any player in the Bo Ryan era. Butch took a lot of heat for a 6’11" player that was more comfortable shooting outside the paint but gobbled up boards at a rate befitting his size.
In an extremely close battle, I have to give Kaminsky the nod here. He is a more versatile offensive player and combined with his emergence as a shot blocker gives him over the edge by the narrowest of margins.
Advantage: Frank Kaminsky, 2014
Michael Flowers/Joe Krabbenhoft vs. Ben Brust/Josh Gasser
These four players are grouped together as the embodiment of Bo Ryan basketball players, gritty all-around players that get the most out of every minute on the court. Flowers and Krabbenhoft have the edge in rebounding and assists, plus they were better defensively. Brust and Gasser are more efficient offensive players.
We are not without iconic shots in this group either. Flowers has the game winning 3-pointer and subsequent inbounds steal against Texas. Brust has the half-court shot against Michigan to send the game into overtime.
Determining the edge in this grouping is a challenge. As good as Flowers and Krabbenhoft were as defenders I have to go with Brust and Gasser. Both 2014 players are more consistent offensive threats.
Advantage: Ben Brust/Josh Gasser, 2014
Greg Stiemsma vs. Duje Dukan
A theme is pretty quickly emerging. The Badgers of 2014 are a better offensive squad. That being said, Stiemsma has the advantage here. For starters, this comparison is a little unfair. Stiemsma never looked to score much. He was a defensive stalwart whose offensive was high percentage shots around the basket or wide open mid-range set shots (not really joking on set shots). Only 12 percent of his possessions ended with a shot attempt.
Dukan meanwhile has always been a willing and competent shooter but continues to be a work in progress defensively. Early on in his career, Dukan struggled to grasp the defensive rotations and often got lost tracking his man and the ball. Considering his early challenges, it is surprising to see Dukan match Stiemsma in rebounding. Dukan’s improvement this year has been a pleasant surprise.
The bottom line though falls to consistency and Stiemsma was definitely that. Dukan has found a nice niche coming off the bench as an instant offense type role. But Stiemsma was solid night after night.
Advantage: Greg Stiemsma, 2007
Jason Bohannon vs. Bronson Koenig
Here is where the advance stats deceive. Comparing the two freshman guards on KenPom efficiency alone shows them nearly equal. However the numbers cannot convey how solid Koenig has been in running the offense in relief of Jackson. Koenig is absolutely in control the entire time and has yet to show signs of being forced into a pace he is uncomfortable with.
Bohannon’s playing time was largely a factor of necessity. Starters Taylor and Flowers could not play the entire game at guard (but often came close). Bohannon and fellow freshman Trevon Hughes were needed to spell them off the bench.
The 2014 Badgers start three guards and had a fourth in George Marshall who had played starter's minutes in the past. Koenig has been good enough to warrant playing time with up to four experienced guards ahead of him.
Advantage: Bronson Koenig, 2014
Marcus Landry vs. Nigel Hayes
Alright, Landry was not a true freshman. But he sat out the second half of 2006 so he had only a dozen or so games of college basketball entering the 2007 season. But that doesn’t change the fact that Landry and Hayes made very similar contributions early on. Both were aggressive scorers off the bench. Landry definitely has a slight edge in outside shooting, but Hayes has shown enough to be adequate.
Where Hayes really struggles is committing fouls. His foul rate approaches a big man that challenges a lot of shots (like Stiemsma). In order to provide backup minutes to the starters, Hayes has to be better at staying on the floor. An already thin front court is quickly stretched when Hayes battles foul trouble.
Unsurprisingly Landry gets the edge here. His extra half season and extra time in the program definitely surpass Hayes at this point.
Advantage: Marcus Landry, 2007
The clear winner here is Badger basketball fans. We have gotten to enjoy a lot of quality basketball in recent history. Recent memory might have gotten too much benefit in this rundown, as my count scored 4-3 in favor of this year's squad. The 2014 team is definitely more versatile offensively and has shown they do not rely on one player to provide a bulk of the scoring. Five different players have led the team in scoring through 12 games.With the Big Ten schedule right around the corner we will quickly see how good this year's team can be. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride.
- 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship: Nic Kerdiles expected to play key role
- Women's hockey: Spotlight on Brittany Ammerman
- Wisconsin volleyball falls to Penn State in NCAA championship
- Melvin Gordon to return for junior season at Wisconsin
- Walk-On Wisconsin: How a Big Ten power makes the most out of its least-heralded prospects