"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

Monday, November 01, 2021

UW-Madison Preview, 2021-22

UW-Madison Badgers

December 4, Madison, WI, 11:30 am

Head Coach: Greg Gard (119-70)

Three-Year NET Average: 21.0

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 17.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 54

Brad Davison protesting a technical after punching someone in the groin...again

Photo by Noah K Murray | USA Today Sports

Projected Starters: PG Chucky Hepburn (6'1" Fr), SG Brad Davison (6'4" Sr),  SF Johnny Davis (6'5" So), PF Tyler Wahl (6'9" Jr), C Chris Vogt (7'1" Sr)

In mid-January, everything was looking up for UW-Madison. They were 12-3, ranked in the top-10 of both polls, climbed to #8 in Kenpom, and looked to be heading for another protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Then they lost 8 of their final 12 regular season games, split a pair of contests with Penn State and Iowa in the Big 10 Tournament, and earned a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They managed to knock North Carolina and Roy Williams out in the first round for the first and last time of the coach's illustrious career before being thoroughly drubbed by Baylor in the second round. In the offseason, scandal broke out as now-former UW-Madison assistant Alando Tucker allegedly leaked a tape of a meeting between coaches and players where the Badger squad decried the actions of Greg Gard. That was followed by all but one of the seniors that were eligible to return departing, leaving only serial flopper and groin-puncher Brad Davison as a returning regular starter.

Davison will be the clear leader of this team. He averaged 12.1 ppg last year and will likely shoulder even more of the offensive load. Davison is terrible (27.5%) shooting inside the arc, likely down to referees getting wise to him just throwing himself into players to try to draw fouls (he had the lowest free throw rate of his career last season) but he's reliable from distance, making 39.1% of his three-point attempts. Chucky Hepburn joins him in the backcourt. The freshman is a crafty player who is quick but, as is appropriate for Gard's Swing offense, doesn't play fast. Johnny Davis flashed potential last year, showing the ability to score inside and out while using his quickness to defend effectively. Up front, veteran reserve Tyler Wahl and Cincinnati transfer Chris Vogt provide size and strength but neither are particularly efficient offensively and will have to be more productive than they've been in the past. To Gard's credit, he does have a number of young players to lean on, as Ben Carlson, Steven Crowl, Matthew Mors, and Lorne Bowman all are expected to contribute while Wake Forest transfer Jahcobi Neath gives another back court option.

Stylistically, you know what you're going to get with UW-Madison. Last year was the fastest pace played under Gard, which was still #320 nationally in offensive possession length and #328 in overall tempo. The goal is to create mismatches with cuts and screens, either isolating their bigs in the post or getting open looks from deep. But the true calling card of this team is defense. Critics of analytics will point to how UW-Madison is "overrated" but the reason for that is because they are consistently great defensively. Gard has had a top-20 adjusted defensive efficiency in 6 of his 7 seasons in Madison. They play tight man-to-man defense and excel at staying in front of their man, which allows them to contest everything. In addition to size inside, their guards and wings like Davison and Davis are competent rebounders so they limit second chance opportunities.

On paper, this looks like a team about to take a major step back. It's easy to look at the 2018 team where it was Ethan Happ and a ton of young guys as an example of Gard's system not favoring a roster this young. The difference this time is Davison, Davis, and Wahl all played major minutes last year. Transfers Vogt and Neath have played significant minutes against quality competition. And off the bench, instead of the freshmen from 2018 Gard has sophomores to fill in for starts and provide depth. Expect another tough defensive unit that manages to get some late-in-the-shot-clock bailouts from Davison. If this was Bo Ryan, they'd be penciled in to the top-20 and a top-4 Big 10 finish. Gard hasn't earned that yet. While this won't be Gard's best team, their style will earn them a big win or two (Gard has at least one Kenpom top-10 victory every season he's been at UW-Madison) and should have them at least fighting to be on the bubble when the end of the season rolls around.

Marquette Connection: While Brad Davison is climbing up the stat charts at UW-Madison--he's 4th in career starts, 5th in made threes, 12th in steals, and 19th in points--he could accomplish another feat this year that no Badger has performed in more than 40 years. That would be losing to Marquette four times in his career. While Marquette did have a 4-game winning streak from 1981-84, no Badger was on all four of those teams and the two squads didn't play in the 1984-85 season. The last Badger to accomplish the feat was Bill Pearson in 1978. Pearson really stands out because he lost to Marquette SIX times as the teams played twice in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons, with Marquette winning every contest between the two in his career. Here's hoping Davison can add this piece of history to his already-ignominious career.

No comments: