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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Offense still clicking; Leuer injury not awful

Over the past four games, the Wisconsin basketball team’s most important player has been sidelined with a wrist injury, but UW has still gone 3-1.

And of course, UW is once again operating at a pace slower than a snail covered in molasses — double clich? whammy! — and shooting a mediocre 44 percent from the field. UW, however, still ranks 27th in the nation in offensive efficiency according to stats guru Ken Pomeroy.

The Badgers have also essentially been playing seven players since Jon Leuer decided to high-five the hardwood — give or take a cameo appearance from offensive-rebounding-machine-but-one-year-away-from-truly-contributing Mike Bruesewitz. And yet, the shortened bench will actually be an asset come tourney time.


Some analysis is required to divine where Bo’s Boys are heading this season, with their leading post player taking his seat between JP Gavinski and Ian Markolf.

Perfect time for a notes column.

Losing Leuer

When the Badgers lost Leuer for an “indefinite” amount of time (which translates to 6-8 weeks when you decode the coach-speak), the team had to resort to a style of play rarely seen in head coach Bo Ryan’s era — a four-guard lineup of extreme small ball.

Normally reliant on teams with length ideally suited to his pack-it-in man-to-man defense, Ryan likes to recruit big and play big. His crunch time lineup against Penn State Sunday included three players listed under 6-foot-3, and a fourth, 6-foot-8 Keaton Nankivil. Still, despite entering uncharted territory, Wisconsin has managed to do better than just tread water and played their way to second place in the Big Ten, losing only to a rejuvenated Ohio State over this stretch.

With Leuer clapping one-handed on the bench, however, the Badgers have fallen into a dangerous pattern of jacking up threes at a rate only Mike D’Antoni would be proud of, and avoiding the paint like it is still wet. Over this four game span, UW has hoisted 109 shots from beyond the arc, compared to only 103 two-point field goals. Making matters worse, the UW guards have only connected on 27 percent of the attempts from 22 feet or longer. With the next two games against Purdue on the road and Michigan State in Madison, the perimeter party might finally get crashed.

Offense still OK

So how did the Badgers manage to beat Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State despite a cold streak even Wisconsinites aren’t used to? By never turning over the ball and knocking down all their freebies from the charity stripe.

According to Kenpom rankings, the Badgers are No. 27 out of 347 teams in offensive efficiency rankings, largely based on their ability to hold onto the ball and convert free throw opportunities at a high percentage.

While the offensive efficiency rating may fall with Leuer out of the lineup, the Badgers rank No. 4 in the nation for turnover percentage and No. 14 for free throw percentage. Against Penn State Sunday, UW shot only 43 percent from the floor but sank 17 of 19 free throws and gave the ball away only five times, compared to 18 for the Nittany Lions.

The lesson is — as always — the swing offense may not look pretty with forced three-pointers launched near the end of the shot clock, but it is effective. Few teams are better at tiring opponents out on the defensive end by running them through pick after pick. With smart guards handling the ball, UW consistently comes out on the winning side.

Depth better with Leuer gone

This next point is counter-intuitive, and certainly hinges on Leuer actually coming back healthy in time for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, but the Badgers will be better off in the long run getting used to playing without Leuer.

The benefits come in several ways:

First of all, as talented as Leuer is, he has a bad habit of getting into foul trouble. Through 16 games played, Leuer was on the floor for an average of 28 minutes a game, and the reason had nothing to do with conditioning or effectiveness. There were several games already this year when Leuer sat for most of the first half, and the offense stalled without him. Assuming Leuer comes back, the offense will have a fall back when he picks up two cheapies the first four minutes of a game.

With Leuer’s minutes currently up for grabs, the bench itself will immediately become stronger upon his return. Would Rob Wilson have contributed significantly in the victory over Michigan, or would he have been on the floor for the last minutes of Penn State if Leuer were healthy? The degenerate gambler in me wants to bet no. Same question goes for Ryan Evans — whose defensive versatility has increased in Leuer’s absence — and Keaton Nankivil, whom the Wizard of Oz finally gifted confidence in his fantastic jump shot.

If Wisconsin can continue to win its games against inferior teams, and steal one or two on the road with Leuer waving a towel on the sideline, his injury will ultimately prove to be a boon instead of a curse.

Leuer may not like to hear that, but the Grateful Red should be relieved.

Michael is a senior majoring in journalism. Do you think he is just delusional? Still disgusted by Bo Ryan’s swing offense? He can be reached at [email protected]

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