"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

Thursday, September 06, 2018

UW-Madison Preview

UW-Madison Badgers
December 8, fiserv.forum

Coach: Greg Gard (57-36 at UW-Madison)
3-Year RPI Average: 61.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 43.0
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 22
Projected Starters: PG D'Mitrik Trice (6'0" Jr), SG Brad Davison (6'3" So), SF Brevin Pritzl (6'3" Jr), PF Khalil Iverson (6'5" Sr), C Ethan Happ (6'10" Sr)

Pundits are believing in this UW-Madison team that returns nearly everyone. Trice & Kobe King return from injury, transfer Trevor Anderson will be eligible, & sophomores Nate Reuvers & Aleem Ford earned valuable experience last year. That said, this team did have a losing record when Trice & King were injured & finished with a losing record at the end of the year. While Gard has a likely preseason All-American in Happ & a wealth of options, no one else has yet proven they can be the Robin to Happ's Batman on a winning team.

Stylistically, little has changed for this team since Bo Ryan retired. Play the game at a painfully slow pace & stick rigidly to man-to-man defense. The Badgers averaged 20.6 seconds per offensive possession last year; only Virginia spent more time on the ball on offense. Offensively, they had their second worst team of the advanced stats era, largely because they didn't have many reliable shooters; only Aleem Ford shot over 36% from deep. They also had their worst defensive team in Pomeroy's rankings because they couldn't stop anyone inside. Last year's Badgers were the first UW-Madison team since 2002 to allow over 50% on 2PFGs.

While many expect this team to bounce right back to being the reliable tournament team they were to start the century, I'm not convinced. The Big 10 will be better this year, with both Michigan State looking like a top-tier team & a plethora of other teams that feel they can legitimately contend for a tournament berth. Even when UW-Madison was healthy last year, they weren't good & benefited heavily from a soft conference schedule that saw them go 5-5 against sub-50 kenpom teams but only 2-6 against top-50 teams.

The idea that a year of experience will take a team from not sniffing the NIT to top-25 & safely in the NCAA Tournament seems like a stretch. As mentioned in the Indiana preview, after Michigan State there are 11 Big 10 teams projected from 20-52 in T-Rank. The league will likely beat up on itself & shouldn't expect more than 7 bids, which leaves most likely 5 of those teams in the top-52 on the outside of the NCAA field looking in. Expect UW-Madison to be fighting a battle to the bubble all year long. It's a coin flip if they get in & not nearly the guarantee most experts seem to think it is.

Marquette Connection: UW-Madison is Marquette's most common opponent, & with rare exception the teams have played every season since the late 1920s. The most notable exception was a period from 1954-1957 when they didn't meet at all. Before then, UW-Madison had handily controlled the series, leading 36-18. The reason for the break in the series was because after one week of school in 1951, UW-Madison freshmen Rube Schulz & Doug Gill left campus, drove to Milwaukee, & flipped their commitments by transferring to Marquette. UW-Madison coach Bud Foster was so upset that he took Marquette off the schedule. The transfers paid off big for Marquette. In 1952, Marquette won the National Catholic Tournament. 3 years later, Schulz helped lead MU to their first ever NCAA Tournament, knocking off Miami (OH) & Kentucky en route to the Elite 8. Since the series was renewed in 1958, Marquette holds a 40-31 advantage.

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