MADISON, Wis. – Ben Brust is Wisconsin’s most important player.
I know, I think it sounds ridiculous, too.
But bear with me for a second. The Badgers have, more or less, three impressive wins on the season. On November 26th, the Badgers knocked off BYU 73-56 thanks to 21 points — and 7-10 shooting from beyond the arc — from Brust. On December 10th, Wisconsin knocked off UNLV 62-51. Brust was even more impressive in that one, finishing with 25 points and knocking down all seven of the threes he attempted. While he wasn’t quite as effective in the Badger’s win over Purdue, Brust still led the team in scoring, going for 13 points and hitting 3-4 from distance.
That’s it for Wisconsin’s impressive wins.
And in the Badger’s five losses?
Brust is shooting 33% from the field and 5-26 from three. The only time he reached double figures in a loss was when he scored 11 points against Iowa, and it took him 13 shots to get there.
Obviously, Brust isn’t the most important player on this team, at least not while Jordan Taylor is still wearing a Wisconsin jersey. But Brust does epitomize precisely what plagues this Badgers team: they are too streaky.
Defensively, Wisconsin is just as good as the numbers suggest. Kenpom has them as the second best team in the country in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 0.813 PPP, and what happens on the country is backed up by the numbers. Next time Wisconsin is on TV, watch how many open shots their opponents gets. Watch how many cuts they make without getting bumped. Watch how well Bo Ryan’s team rotates defensively. They are a fundamentally sound defensively.
And they are helped out immensely by the fact that their style of play — killing the pace and taking any and all flow out of the game — destroys their opponent’s rhythm. When you aren’t used to playing at a crawl, frustration builds. It becomes that much more difficult to know down an open shot.
The offensive end of the floor is where Wisconsin’s issues lie.
Simply put, they’ve had their issues scoring against good teams. And when Wisconsin struggles scoring, they lose. It doesn’t matter if you’re holding a team to 59 points if you only score 41, as Wisconsin did against Michigan this year.
The question is why?
“If I could answer that, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Taylor said after Wisconsin squeaked out a 45-40 win over Nebraska.
Well, its certainly not turnovers, as Wisconsin hasn’t turned the ball over more than 12 times in the games they’ve lost. Its not offensive rebounding, either, as the Badgers aren’t a team designed to attack the offensive glass. What they are supposed to be able to do is to drain the shot clock offensively, either finding an open look out of their set or putting the ball in Jordan Taylor’s hands and allowing him to create
Only, in their five losses, those open looks aren’t coming as often. And when they do, they aren’t going down. Wisconsin is shooting just 33.6% from the floor in those losses, a number that drops all the way to 23.9% from three.
That right there is the problem.
And its not just Ben Brust. Its Jared Berggren and Josh Gasser, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz.
When Wisconsin isn’t able to shoot the ball from the perimeter they are unable to make teams pay for doubling Jordan Taylor off of ball screens and sending help when he tries to attack off the dribble. In a 50-45 win over Nebraska, Taylor went without an assist. It wasn’t because he didn’t pass the ball willingly, its because those passes didn’t result in made shots.
“It just means there might have been some looks that we had that might not have gone down,” Ryan said. “Its not like he wasn’t trying. He was drawing plenty of attention.”
You want to solve Wisconsin’s consistency issues? You want the Badgers to start getting their name thrown in the mix for the Big Ten title and Jordan Taylor to start putting up the kind of numbers he did last season?
Than find a way to get his supporting cast to start knocking down jump shots consistently.
Until then, the Badgers are going to be an unpredictable, up-and-down team.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.