The Wisconsin Badgers did not live up to standards in 2022. The players know it, the coaching staff knows it, and their fans definitely know it.
Looking back at a disappointing campaign where the Badgers missed the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1998, the offensive inefficiencies were a concern, as Wisconsin just didn't have enough firepower on that end to remain sustainable throughout the season, which showed at the end of games.
However, the Badgers brought back their entire team in 2023, while adding three freshmen and St. John’s transfer A.J. Storr to shore up the depth on the roster after struggling in that area last season.
With their new-look team, how will the Badgers look to improve on a team that scored just 1.06 points per possession while shooting 41% from the field in 2022?
The answer: playing faster, which was a goal of the team’s last season and will look to become a bigger emphasis in 2023, according to several players.
“We’re trying to score a little bit more this year, play a little bit faster,” center Steven Crowl said at Wisconsin’s Media Day on Wednesday. “I think [the incoming freshmen and A.J. Storr] all kind of fit that mold into playing a little bit faster. Obviously, we all know we need to score a little more points.”
Crowl doubled down on his new teammate, anointing Storr as one of the best athletes he’s ever seen, which will help the Badgers with their pace of play this season.
“[A.J. Storr’s] one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen in person,” Crowl said. “So just having him and like I told you, just playing a little bit faster, he can get up and down the court.
“He played in the Big East. They play fast out there and he kind of knows how they play. Just having a different level of athlete on the team like that will be really helpful both on offense and defense for us.”
Storr himself noted how an early emphasis from head coach Greg Gard was to get out in transition, which could open up extra opportunities for him on the wing.
“Coach is telling us to push it in practice,” Storr shared. :Yeah, like I said, just getting out on the transition.”
“Probably be a couple live options on the transition. A lot of three-on-one transition breaks most of the time. Using my speed at play,” Storr said in reference to the ways Wisconsin will look to push the ball.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday as well, head coach Greg Gard acknowledged the importance of playing fast and utilizing transition opportunities, but held a bigger responsibility for his team: being efficient from the field.
“Yes, if we can get something easy in transition,” Gard said in reference to playing faster. “I think we’ve got an experienced point guard now. We got some depth behind him. Our bigs are pretty mobile in terms of running the middle of the floor.”
“And then, as I tell all of them, just be responsible with the ball. The pace of play is something that gets maybe over-exaggerated in terms of a number. It’s still about the efficiency of your offense.”
Gard pointed to the 2015 Badgers team that infamously made the NCAA Tournament Finals, sharing how that team was able to score 1.29 points per possession, despite having a slow pace of play due to high efficiency.
“I mean, you look back at our 2015 team, which averaged 1.29 points per possession, it’s the slowest team we’ve ever had here in terms of where they ranked in the pace of play. So I think, again, what really matters: the pace of play number doesn’t as [much].”
Last season, the Badgers sat at a measly 1.06 points per possession, due to a slower pace and low efficiency, which Gard expects to change in 2023, although it may not be primarily due to transition.
“I’m more concerned with that [1.06 points per possession number] last year. That’s got to be 1.1 something. And there’s a variety of ways to do that.”
“Against the really good teams, you’re going to probably have a harder time getting a lot of transition baskets. They should have a hard time getting them against us because of how you transition and how you take care of the ball. But, if you can get an easy one or two, yeah, it’s a game of easy baskets.”
Overall, the most important aspect of improving the Badgers offense starts with the efficiency woes. If an increase in the pace of play can contribute to that, Gard would kill two birds with one stone.
“It’s easier said than done, but our efficiency has to go up,” Gard said. “And if that’s a piece of making our efficiency go up, then I’m all for it.”
The Badgers kick off their season with an exhibition bout against UW-Stevens Point on November 1st at the Kohl Center, where they'll first debut their new-look team against new competition.