"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, November 08, 2020

UW-Madison Preview, 2020-21

UW-Madison Badgers

December 4th, Fiserv Forum

Coach: Greg Gard (101-57)

3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 51.0

3-Year kenpom Average: 36.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 8

Nathan Reuvers & Micah Potter power the Badgers front line
Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski - USA Today Sports

Projected Starters: PG D'Mitrik Trice (6'0" RS Sr), SG Brad Davison (6'4" Sr), SF Aleem Ford (6'8" Sr), PF Micah Potter (6'10" Sr), C Nathan Reuvers (6'11" Sr)

If Marshall Mathers were asked to analyze the 2019-20 UW-Madison team, he'd likely ask will the real Bucky Badger please stand up? While they finished the season #19 in T-Rank and #22 on kenpom.com, they took a bizarre track to getting there. The first version of the team was pre-Potter. Before the Ohio State big man transfer took the floor, the Badgers went 5-5 and were ranked just #55 on T-Rank. The thought was that their roster was complete once he took the court, and in their next 10 games they went 7-3 and were #27 in T-Rank during that stretch. Then starter Kobe King left the team. Many believed the Badgers would fall off significantly, but instead they took off, going 9-2 the rest of the year and ranking #6 in T-Rank through the end of the season, while also capturing a share of the Big 10 title. The only player they lose that played a significant role down the stretch is Brevin Pritzl, and with the NCAA's new ruling, this could potentially be the start of a two-year run with everyone on the 2020-21 roster intact.

Last year's UW-Madison team seemed to be deep but lacking star power. While no one emerged the way Ethan Happ, Frank Kaminsky, or Sam Dekker did for past teams, every starter has shown the ability to put up numbers on any given night. Every one of them can score both inside and beyond the arc. While Reuvers and Potter will likely get the largest share of touches, both of the guards had 30+ point games last year and all of them averaged over 8.0 ppg. Off the bench, they have reliable place-holders in Tyler Wahl and Trevor Anderson along with a pair of promising freshmen in Ben Carlson and Johnny Davis. They likely won't have anyone on All-America teams, but they have a roster that is as experienced as it is deep.

When it comes to style of play, it feels like this could be a copy/paste paragraph from any of the past 25 or so years. Slow, methodical offense that grinds down the shot clock under 10 on most possessions coupled with rigid, man-to-man defense that focuses on limiting three-point attempts. Last year, we expected the Badgers' three-point offense to increase due to the departure of Ethan Happ and we were correct as they went from 281st in the country in 3-point attempts/field goal attempt all the way up to 44th. With Potter available for the full season, expect this to be a team that runs down the clock and finds open shooters on the perimeter regularly.

People usually expect experienced teams to take big jumps once their players are seniors, but more often than not when teams return the same roster, they end up with pretty much the same results. For the Badgers, the (admittedly small) sample size of this roster was top-10 in the country and Big 10 champs. This projects to be the best team Marquette sees in the non-conference and might be the best team in the country that no one seems to be talking about. I expect that's because they don't have the star power of other teams in the top-10, but I feel they are clearly the best on-paper team in the Big 10 and a legitimate conference and National Championship contender. As much as I like to be optimistic, this is a seasoned team that is used to playing together and, especially early in the season, it's hard for me to see a path to victory for a Marquette team that will be looking to replace over 54% of their minutes and 67% of their scoring from last season.

There is one reason for concern for UW-Madison fans that I want to address before closing this. While Reuvers and Potter are arguably their two best and most important players, the Badgers weren't particularly good offensively when they were playing together. As interesting as the number of neither on court is, I expect those numbers were largely garbage time and not to be given much weight. As a team, while they were better defensively with both, they were terrible offensively when both bigs were on the court. In an era when bigs are becoming less fashionable, UW-Madison's two-big plan may not be as effective as it would have been in years past. I'm still a believer in this team, but these numbers indicate it may not be a smooth path to the top-10.

Marquette Connection: Before Markus Howard made scoring 45+ points a casual thing (Howard holds positions 1-5 on Marquette's single game scoring record chart), the record for scoring in a single game was shared by Mike Moran and more recently Tony Smith, who scored 44 points at UW-Madison on February 19, 1990. While Smith was nearly unstoppable, nothing else went right for Marquette in that game as they were throttled 82-65 by the Badgers. To further exacerbate the 17-point loss, Marquette was saddled with 5 technical fouls and Head Coach Kevin O'Neill was ejected in the final moments of the game.

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