The Wisconsin Badgers were already performing below their normal defensive standards this season but the blasting by Ohio State obliterated any hope for some solid defensive numbers. According to Kenpom.com the Badgers are currently ranked 70th in the country on a per possession basis giving up .963 points per possession. The number one defense in the country is currently Texas with .856 points per possession. In 2010 the Badgers ended the season ranked 19th with .891 points per possession. In 2009 they were ranked 49th with .938. In 2008 the Badgers were 2nd with .828. In 2007 they were 6th with .857.
On a per possession basis this is the worst Wisconsin defense going as far back as 2003 when the site began recording these stats.
Is it as simple as this not being a good defensive team for Wisconsin? That the personnel is just not suited to defend? Possible, but I do not buy it mostly because the team is responsible for the players that are brought in, if Marquette can bring in the right type of player to play this defense, so can Wisconsin. There are message boards that will complain about Tim Jarmusz matching up against wings or how Keaton Nankivil lacks aggression when dealing with ball screens and both of those may play into the numbers but I believe this is a style issue over anything else. The Badgers do not take away the three and do not make offensive players uncomfortable on the perimeter. The Badgers still base their defense around protecting the lane and that style will hold up against average to below average competition but does not work against the top teams in the country and has definitely not worked in the tourney.
The Badgers do a very good job of not giving up anything too easy at the basket and there are rarely wide open shots by the opposition. But in a year like this, when the Big 10 has some very good offensive teams the style does not hold up. As fans I think we can blame the lack of defending the three as reasons why the Badgers have been bounced out by Cornell, Davidson and UNLV in the NCAA Tournament in the past few seasons. All three runs were ended early by teams that simply knocked the Badgers out with the three point shot that the Badgers were favored over.
At every level of basketball the three has become a major focal point of the offense(by no means an earth-shattering observation). The Badgers are currently 319th in 3 point% defense, allowing 37.9. That is pathetic. Sure the Buckeyes hitting 14 of 15 made this even worse but this has been a problem all season, and for several years.
The Badgers (lack of) defense of the three has been somewhat covered up in past seasons when the Big 10 was down but with teams like Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and even Northwestern on the up-swing this style will put the team in the hole moving forward. The style too easily allows passing along the perimeter, the offensive players are allowed to easily and comfortably catch the ball. There is usually a Badger defender nearby but never challenging the pass or up on the player to the point of making him feel uncomfortable. All of the Badgers help principles center around protecting the lane which is leaving too many soft spots that good shooting teams are able to exploit.
When we watch the Badgers play offense against Purdue and Ohio State, every pass feels difficult and there is always a defender all over the offensive players. Because the Badgers currently have a couple of ultra-talented players in Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer they are able to handle this pressure and often make difficult shots. The Badgers have been able to succeed this season due to the most efficient offense in the country, will that continue into next year?
How To Change?
Bo Ryan is obviously a brilliant basketball coach that has forgotten more about basketball than most of us will ever know. But that doesn’t mean there are flaws with his current system. When you have had as much success as Ryan has had over his career it can be very tough to accept a change is needed in philosophy. Add in the fact that Ryan is already one of the more stubborn coaches in the country, as evidenced by the number of possessions he has ever went zone at Wisconsin, ZERO, and it will take something very obvious to force a change. I am not sure if 14-15 from three by the Buckeyes will force a change but couple that with another second round NCAA Tournament exit and one would think a tweak or two in the philosophy of the defense would be appropriate.