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UW ranks low in Big Ten statistics

There are plenty of humorous quotes about statistics. One trap that is easy to fall into, as poet Andrew Lang once observed, is using "statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts -- for support rather than for illumination."

After five conference games against what I would call an average slate of teams (Nebraska twice, Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue), looking at where Wisconsin's measurables rank amongst its Big Ten brethren can be disheartening if you simply let it confirm for you how dreadful the team's offense has been. But one rule that I try to abide by when using numbers is attributed to Williams W. Watt: "Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say."

None of these numbers can tell you whether the Badgers are a good or bad team. So use the stats to reassess pre-conceived notions about who the team is.

Wisconsin is still perched at No. 3 by Ken Pomeroy, who puts Wednesday's opponent, Northwestern, at No. 48. Aided by a tough strength of schedule, NU's RPI ranks 25th while Wisconsin's ranks 45th. Keep in mind that these rankings probably will flip-flop by the end of the season as full schedules flatten out the highs and lows.

As far as raw statistics go, there is a mix of flattering, unflattering and non-descript, which makes sense given Wisconsin's 3-3 record:

* Wisconsin ranks first in scoring defense (56.8) and 11th in scoring offense (57.8). Northwestern is just less than average in each category in the Big Ten.

* I think you know why, too ... UW is again first in FG defense (38.4%), while last in shooting percentage (37.5%).

* Likewise, the Badgers rank third in 3-point defense (29.3%) and 11th in 3-point shooting (28.7%). The Wildcats are close to average in both.

* Wisconsin and Michigan are tied for best team free throw shooting percentage (76.5%).

* The Badgers rank last in assists (8.5/g) and steals (4.0/g).

* Wisconsin's turnover margin is negative (-2.0/g) because they have forced the fewest turnovers by far during league play (7.8/g).

* With 51 assists and 59 turnovers, UW ranks a surprising 8 out of 12 in assist to turnover ratio (0.9). Jordan Taylor is not among the top ten individuals.

* Jared Berggren is tied for the league lead with 11 blocked shots.

Across the aisle, Bill Carmody has been tinkering with his starting lineup in the last two games, mostly to shake up the lackluster play from his front court. The plan (Davide Curletti and John Shurna at forward, Drew Crawford, Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski at guard) worked against Michigan State. But that hasn't yet changed the following:

* Northwestern is tied for 10th in rebounding (30.0/g) and dead last in rebounds surrendered (39.2/g), bad enough for the worst rebounding margin (-9.2/g) in the league.

* The team is also last in offensive rebounding (6.8/g).

* The Wildcats rank fourth in both 3-point shooting (39.3%) and FG defense (40.6%), a big improvement over previous years in the latter category. In most other areas, NU is rather pedestrian as a team.

* Both John Shurna and Sobolewski are averaging 40 mins/g during conference play. (Note: Thanks to overtime, my assumption that neither had rested was incorrect.)

* Shurna is the Big Ten's top free throw shooter at 94.4%.

* Sobolewski is tops in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2).

In conclusion, Wisconsin has a lot of warts, no doubt. But against Northwestern, the Badgers should be able to really limit Northwestern's second chances. This would swing the advantage in UW's favor if neither team is shooting particularly well. Wisconsin must take better care of the ball.