It all ended on a botched play. A long, ugly desperation 3-pointer from Jordan Taylor Thursday night in Boston. But one play doesn’t define a season.
Although the year ended in a heartbreaking 64-63 defeat at the hands of a more athletic and talented Syracuse team, it’s hard to be disappointed with what Wisconsin men’s basketball head coach Bo Ryan put together this season. Despite losing two of its top three scorers from last season, Wisconsin finished just one conference win away from a share of the Big Ten title and reeled off two wins in the NCAA tournament.
Now it’s time to break down another 20-win season from head coach Bo Ryan that surprised many of those in the world of college basketball.
Offense: 3.5 out of 5
After starting the year with lights-out shooting, the Badgers often struggled to find the bottom of the net as the season progressed. Finishing the year at a 42.5 clip from the field and a 36.8 percentage from beyond the arc, Wisconsin’s success shooting the ball on any given night was often indicative of the team’s overall offensive performance.
On a team that came into the 2011-12 season with only one proven scorer in Taylor, questions loomed about who would help the senior point guard carry the scoring load. A pair of juniors in forward/center Jared Berggren and forward Ryan Evans stepped up to compliment Taylor’s team-leading 14.8 points, but still proved insufficient for avoiding lengthy scoreless stretches.
Although Berggren developed into a legitimate post presence over the course of the season, the Badgers’ greatest weakness on the offensive side of the court was their dependence on outside shooting. With a roster rife with players who could sink the 3-ball, losses were often a product of a rough shooting night.
However, UW’s ability to sink its shots from the charity stripe (73.9 percent as a team) and limit turnovers (8.9 per game) kept them in games when the iron was unkind to the team. Posting an average of only 64 points per game, the Badgers nonetheless found enough offensive firepower to rack up 26 wins.
Defense: 4.5 out of 5
Without an ability to temper even the most prolific offenses, Wisconsin would not have dreamed of competing for a conference title or making a run to the Sweet 16.
Although defense is a staple of any Ryan-coached team, this year’s team relied on it more than any of recent memory and led the nation by holding opponents to 53.2 points per game. On a Badgers squad that lacked any player averaging 15 or more points per contest, defensive effort was the key to victory for the 2011-12 squad.
Without any single defense star, Wisconsin — who also ranked 15th nationally in field goal percentage defense by limiting opponents to 38.9 percent shooting — formulated a team-wide effort that frustrated nearly every opposing offense. With Josh Gasser, Berggren and Evans leading the defensive charge, UW’s defense surrendered 70 points just twice all season.
Defense — undoubtedly Wisconsin’s strongest suit this year — proved to be the paradoxical answer to the offensive questions surrounding the Badgers.
Player of the year: Jordan Taylor
It’s easy to view Taylor’s final year on the Kohl Center floor as a disappointment for the preseason first-team All-American, as he came into the year with sky-high expectations. And although the senior point guard’s scoring declined by more than three points per game this year, he was the unquestioned leader on both ends of the floor this season.
Without another consistent, dangerous scorer on the roster, Taylor suffered from increased defensive attention on the way to a 40.2 percent average from the field and 36.9 percent from beyond the arc this season. As expected, the 6-foot-1 guard stepped up his scoring to 16.3 per game in conference play and distributed a team-high 147 assists.
While his scoring contributions deserve recognition, Taylor’s role as an adept ball-handler and shutdown defender against the Big Ten’s best guards was of equal, if not greater, importance. The Bloomington, Minn., native’s 2.49 assist-to-turnover ratio this season ranked third in the conference, and he remained an unselfish, intelligent distributor of the ball.
After posting an average of 16 points per game in the Badgers’ NCAA tournament run, Taylor will go down as one of the top guards in program history.
Most improved player: Jared Berggren
Perhaps the biggest question coming into this season was how Berggren, who averaged just 2.4 points and 6.9 minutes of play last year, would handle the big leap to taking over as Wisconsin’s primary option in the paint.
And in his first season seeing significant time on the hardwood, the redshirt junior proved he could be not only a reliable scorer but also an intimidating defensive presence down low. Upping his scoring to 10.5 points and grabbing 4.9 boards per game, Berggren flashed a new skill set in the paint and ranked second on the team by sinking 45.2 percent of his shots.
The versatile big man also proved his range from outside, highlighted by a 17-point performance in which he converted all three of his 3-point attempts in the season-ending loss to Syracuse.
With Taylor’s departure leaving a major void in next year’s team, Ryan will be counting on Berggren and Evans to lead UW’s offense in 2012-13.