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Wisconsin men’s basketball: early season offensive trends

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With a bunch of new players in new roles, the UW offense is going to be an interesting group to follow this season.

Providence v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Despite all of the roster turnover since last season, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team has still displayed a stout defense to start the 2021-22 season. This wasn’t really in question as Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl and Jonathan Davis form a pretty solid defensive base for any team and new starters Chucky Hepburn (a bulldog at point guard) and Steven Crowl (a seven-footer that can protect the rim) looked like they’d fit right in to what Greg Gard’s crew wants to do.

The offense, on the other hand, was/is a complete mystery box.

Davison is a known quantity, but even though Wahl and Davis played a bunch last season, they are going to be counted on to take on larger roles on offense this year. The rest of the starting five, and the rotation, are all basically starting from scratch which is exciting and terrifying all at once.

While UW is only three games into the season, you can already start to tell what type of offensive team this is going to be based on the numbers. For instance, while their pace is still ranked low in terms of place (No. 325 in the nation), the Badgers are actually playing at their fastest pace of the Gard Era!

That tracks with what we’ve seen so far in the first three games. While they are not playing like the Seven Seconds or Less Suns of Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash fame, they are getting out on the break more than normal and, as such, are playing at a quicker pace overall.

The other stat that you can look at this early in the season to see which way an offense is trending is three point attempt rate. If there was a change made in the offseason, whether it be coaching strategy or personnel or whatever, you’d see it reflected in certain stats even after only three games. Three point attempt rate is one of those stats.

3PA rate in Greg Gard Era

Season 3PA% National rank
Season 3PA% National rank
21-22 36.6 214
20-21 40.8 82
19-20 44.5 31
18-19 34.6 281
17-18 36.4 190
16-17 36.9 124
15-16 34.2 208

So far the Badgers three point attempt rate is well down from the past two seasons but lines up pretty accurately with the four seasons before that. A quick perusal of the rosters for UW show that traditional big man Ethan Happ graduated three years ago and was replaced in the lineup by stretch bigs Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers the past two years. Well, that makes a lot of sense!

This year’s team does feature a stretch five, in Steven Crowl who is tied for second on the team in three point attempts with nine, but has Tyler Wahl in the starting lineup who isn’t known for his three point shooting, despite a hot streak last season. Wahl has only attempted three long distance shots in three games this year (making zero) and honestly shouldn’t be shooting more than one a game anyways.

Davison, who is often the player that will have the ball in his hands when the shot clock is winding down and/or the Badgers need a bucket, has already launched 19 threes in the first three games. That is an average of 6.3 per game, a full 1.1 more threes than he shot last season. With Wisconsin figuring to be losing in many of their games against tougher competition it’s fairly easy to see Davison staying at or above that level.

Another two aspects of Wisconsin’s offense that are worth noting already: turnover percentage and offensive rebound rate. The Badgers are, even with a freshman point guard, still one of the best in the country in turnover rate (13%, which is No. 13 in the nation) and that should continue throughout the year.

As far as hitting the offensive glass, that hasn’t really been apart of UW’s strategy the last four years. Their best ranking over that time frame is No. 189 (28.4%) four years ago and the other three years were No. 280 (23.8%) and twice at No. 291 (24.1%, 24.5%). So far this year, the Badgers are rebounding 35.8% of their misses which is good for No. 54 in the country. That’s a marked improvement!

Crowl and Ben Carlson in particular have been beasts on the offensive boards, but I don’t see that continuing once UW gets into Big Ten play. The only team they’ve played so far with any size, Providence, didn’t allow Wisconsin many offensive rebounds. The Badgers finished the game with a rate of 25.6%, by far their lowest of the season.

We’ll see how all of this plays out as the season goes on, but those are my early season observations for the Badgers offense!