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Wisconsin heads to NC State as more of an iffy proposition than usual

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The Badgers lack the firepower of years past.

NCAA Basketball: Richmond at Wisconsin Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin still in many ways looks the same as it has for seemingly two decades now—Greg Gard wasn’t about to overhaul the entire program when he took over for from Bo Ryan—but there are evident cracks in the veneer.

Two years ago, Wisconsin missed the NCAA tournament for the first time this century, finishing with a losing record in the process. The Badgers rebounded to make the tournament last season but were bounced in the first round, and as for this year, well, the early returns are distressing.

While the Badgers have a solid win over Marquette in the bank, they also have a 10-point loss to Richmond (KenPom No. 76) and a nine-point loss to New Mexico (No. 90) on the resume. Wisconsin was bad at the offensive end in both of those losses—those losing margins came despite holding both opponents under a point per possession.

This might be the most limited offense Wisconsin has had in a while.

Wisconsin Offense

2020 Badgers Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Badgers Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 102.9 (106) 49.5 (151) 18.8 (136) 27.9 (176) 31.9 (175)

There is no doubt that they miss Ethan Happ, who had a great season while also assuming an enormous chunk of the production. Happ was not just an excellent scorer in the paint but also an exceptional passer, which created a lot of opportunities elsewhere on the floor.

What’s striking this season is how thin Wisconsin runs in terms of scoring threats. The Badgers have an eight-man rotation, but two of their bench guys shoot so infrequently you’d be forgiven if you never noticed them on the floor. Trevor Anderson, for instance, has attempted three shots in 67 minutes. He has yet to make one. Tyler Wall is accounting for a mere 10% of Wisconsin’s shots while he is in the game.

That’s a couple dudes who probably won’t do much of anything other than exist out there for a few minutes, which heaps a lot of pressure elsewhere.

Nate Reuvers and Aleem Ford both have significantly heavier workloads this season as they do their best to account for Happ’s departure and the mannequin-lookin’ tail end of the bench. Reuvers is talented enough to be okay here, but Ford hadn’t had even an average workload before this season, and the strain of trying to be more of a go-to option is showing.

This is evidence of the domino effect that can result from losing a really-high-workload player like Happ, who accounted for three of every 10 Wisconsin shots while he was on the court. Often it’s not a simple task to re-allocate all those shots, especially for a program that doesn’t recruit especially well. Then you end up forcing a player or two to bite off more than they can handle, which seems to be the case with Ford.

There’s nothing the offense is doing well at this point, save make free throws (81.1%). It’s been easier to bottle them up this year. But they can still cause problems, not the least because they remain sleep-inducingly methodical, and they’re going to attempt a lot of threes. The Badgers are shooting only 30.8% from outside, but an unexpectedly good shooting night is always on the table.

Starters

D’Mitrik Trice (6’0, 184) — Trice is slumping from the perimeter to begin 2020, which really ain’t what Wisconsin needs right now. He’s a career 38% three-point shooter, though, so he most likely won’t shoot just 31% all season. And he’d better not, since he’s also a career 38% two-point shooter. (eep)

Brad Davison (6’4, 206) — You may wonder, Has Brad Davison changed? No, no not really. But at least he can get called for flopping this season. When he’s not busy falling down, he’s often shooting the ball at an average clip. Dude is money at the free throw line, though.

Kobe King (6’4, 205) — He’s posting career-highs in minutes and workload, but he’s making just 45.5% of his twos and 30.8% of his threes. The latter percentage doesn’t seem likely to improve much given his history.

Aleem Ford (6’8, 217) — Ford hit 40.9% of his threes as a freshman (on 110 3FGA), then hit only 28.7% as a sophomore (on 80 3FGA), and he’s at 23.3% as a junior (on 30 3FGA). He hasn’t been as selective in when he shoots this season, which might be part of it. But surely he’s better than he’s been the last 1+ seasons. Probably? He’s a decent rebounder, but not a shot-blocking threat.

Nate Reuvers (6’11, 235) — Reuvers is a challenge because he will take threes, and he’s good enough out there to keep defenses honest. And he’s making 56% of his twos despite a heavy workload. What remains to be seen is if a career 48% two-point shooter can maintain his current efficiency level rather than backsliding.

Bench

Brevin Pritzl (6’3, 204), Tyler Wahl (6’7, 214), Trevor Anderson (6’2, 200). Prtizl is primarily a jump shooter, and a pretty good one. The other two probably won’t do much of anything, as outlined earlier.

Wisconsin Defense

2020 Badgers Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Badgers Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 89.9 (29) 47.7 (136) 19.5 (173) 21.4 (12) 22.5 (34)

The Badgers have been good defensively by suppressing two of the three avenues to points: second-chance opportunities and trips to the free throw line. Including defensive rebounding as a component, their interior defense has been excellent.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by four.