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Road trip another chance to shake reputation

With the end of the regular season in sight, it is easy to look at Wisconsin's record (20-6, 10-4 Big Ten) and marvel at what might have been. What if the Badgers had not turned the ball over 15 times at UNLV and been outshot 50% to 30% from 3-point range? Why was there only one good rim to shoot at in the Bryce Jordan Center? How come Wisconsin couldn't build on the Ohio State win at Purdue? What the heck happened at Michigan State?

The common theme among previews for Wednesday's game against Michigan (17-11, 7-8) in Ann Arbor has been UW's disappointing performance on the road, where the Badgers have only two conference wins. On the season Wisconsin has a losing record away (5-6) from the Kohl Center. A victory over the surging Wolverines might alleviate some of that concern.

Though Bo Ryan tells his players just to keep fighting, the statistics say the Badgers just do not get the shooter's roll on the road. Is Wisconsin really the poster child for home cooking in the Big Ten? Here come them numbers ...

Two more advanced views of Wisconsin's shooting woes are effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Effective field goal (eFG) percentage is becoming a more standard statistic in basketball because it weighs the effect of 3-point shooting properly (ie: shoot a lower % on threes can still be more efficient than shooting twos). True shooting (TS) percentage is basically a measure of how well a team or player would have to shoot 2-pointers to score the same number of points they are currently scoring using 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws.

Wisconsin's 52.6 eFG% ranks fourth in the Big Ten using season-long statistics and its 57.3 TS% ranks third. So this is a good shooting team, right? Well, at the Kohl Center the Badgers sport a 56.0 eFG% (3rd) and a 69.8 TS% (3rd). On the road, those numbers dip to 48.4 eFG% (8th) and 51.9 TS% (10th). There is obviously truth to Wisconsin's reputation of being better shooters on its home court.

In conference games only, UW's 52.1 eFG% (4th) and its 57.5 TS% (2nd) are equally impressive as the overall numbers. However, the Badgers are the conference's best 3-point shooting team at home (42.8%), but the second-worst on the road (30.9%). Their 2-point percentages are about the same regardless of venue. Take a look at the home/road splits in the advanced shooting stats.

Wisconsin's shooting in Big Ten games Home Away
Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) 56.3 47.6
True shooting percentage (TS%) 63.2 50.4

Since the gap is greater for TS%, this should tell you that one factor is the Badgers are not aggressive enough away from Madison. While every team gets better treatment from officials at home on average, Wisconsin tends to settle for open looks from the outside instead of working harder to get to the basket. My own eyes have supported that theory through the first 14 Big Ten games this year.

As Rob Shultz wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal, it is incumbent upon UW's supporting cast to become more efficient away from home. But it's not just them -- Wisconsin's "Big Three" have not mastered consistency yet either.

Home Away
Player eFG% TS% FG% 3P% FT% eFG% TS% FG% 3P% FT%
Leuer 50.0 56.6 45.1
52.2 55.6 48.4
Taylor 57.1 67.0 48.5
51.8 54.6 44.7
Nankivil 70.8 74.7 52.8
59.3 59.3 45.8

Jon Leuer clearly is doing his part and has been even better away from home. But the fact that Keaton Nankivil has not attempted a free throw yet this season in a Big Ten opponent's gym is shocking. It should also be noted that Jordan Taylor's free throw discrepancy often results from being the primary ball handler when Wisconsin is salting away a victory, which of course happens more often at home.

Nankivil (ankle) and Mike Bruesewitz (illness) may not be at 100%, but both are playing tonight after returning to practice on Tuesday.

Michigan, on the other hand, has won six of its last eight games and boasts the second-highest eFG% (54.1) during conference play. The Wolverines have improved their 3-point shooting considerably since the Badgers last faced them. Interestingly, despite shooting a higher eFG% at home, Michigan has a higher TS% on the road (68.4, 2nd in Big Ten) this season than at home (60.8, 4th).

Tim Hardaway Jr. has become a legit scoring threat, and Wisconsin will have to slow him with the same mix of players (Tim Jarmusz, Ryan Evans, Bruesewitz) that shut him out in the second half in Madison. The freshman is coming off a career-high 30 points on the road at Iowa and is averaging 17.8 ppg in his last nine outings. Darius Morris still leads the team with 15.4 ppg and tops the conference with 6.9 apg.

Because of the way the team is built right now, Michigan does not get many offensive rebounds and is even worse than Wisconsin at getting to the free throw line, ranking last in the Big Ten in both categories. By playing a rotation that features three freshmen and two sophomores, John Beilein's team is also near the league cellar in defensive efficiency.

But the youngsters are hungry and comfortable at home, so something has to give.

(Note: Some of the conference-only splits I had to calculate myself, but a lot of the statistics I use are from Basketball State. Though I love the site, it's a shame that several games over the years are missing from their database -- the team splits could be an even more phenomenal tool.)