NCAA tournament team previews: Wisconsin Badgers
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 31-3 (16-2 in Big Ten)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 124.7 (1st)/94.3 (30th)
Seed: No. 1 seed in West
Impact player: Frank Kaminsky, senior, forward: 18.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.6 blocks, 126.5 O-rating
The Case For: After making it to the Final Four last year, Wisconsin looks primed to make it back there this year—and then some. The Badgers don’t just have the most efficient offense in the country this year, they have the most efficient offense in the 14 seasons tracked on kenpom.com, scoring 123.2 points per 100 possessions. Kaminsky is the favorite to win the Wooden Award as national player of the year after a phenomenal season in which he has scored 18.2 points and grabbed 6.5 rebounds per game. Junior forward Sam Dekker took another step forward in his development as a slasher and interior scorer, averaging a career-high 13.0 points per game, and could take his game to the NBA next year.
As you’d expect from a Bo Ryan-coached team, the Badgers have the lowest turnover percentage in the country and have made 114 more free throws than their opponents have attempted. They lost starting point guard Traevon Jackson in January to a broken foot from which he has yet to return, but that has allowed sophomore Bronson Koenig to gain invaluable experience over the last two months. Wisconsin is deep up front with Nigel Hayes joining Kaminsky and Dekker, and Josh Gasser is a classic D-and-three two-guard, with 6'10" senior forward Duje Dukan providing valuable minutes off the bench. Wisconsin does everything you want offensively and what it lacks in on-ball defense, it makes up for by allowing the fourth-lowest offensive rebounding rate in the country. The Badgers are one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis, and with good reason.
The Case Against: One of the few flaws Wisconsin has was on display in its Feb. 24 loss at Maryland. The Badgers can struggle with high-ball screens, and the Terrapins' Dez Wells and Melo Trimble took advantage of them, combining for 42 of Maryland's 59 points in a six-point win. If Wisconsin runs into a team with athletic guards who can handle and shoot, it could be in some trouble.
While the Badgers are dangerous from behind the arc, they’ve had their share of droughts this season and actually are not one of Ryan’s best shooting teams, ranking just 104th in the country in three-point percentage. If one of the bigs gets into foul trouble, Wisconsin could be vulnerable, as backup forward Vitto Brown really isn’t effective for anything more than a few minutes just to give Kaminsky, Dekker or Hayes a breather. As good as Koenig has been since Jackson went down in a Jan. 11 loss at Rutgers, the senior's steady hand and leadership can only help if he's able to return. If he’s rusty when he gets back on the court—he was expected to return to practice this week—the offense could sputter. It takes just one bad night to go from a championship contender to out of the dance.