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Is the Offense to Blame for Wisconsin’s Struggles?

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Wisconsin’s offense has struggled the last few games.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin has lost four of five over the last two weeks. As a result, the Badgers have fallen dramatically in the AP rankings (from No 7 to 22). Likely, the next loss will result in them getting jettisoned from the poll for the first time all year.

The schedule has been a factor. Three of the four losses have come on the road (Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State). Those are all tough places to play, and Wisconsin had already used its good road fortune with tight overtime wins vs. Rutgers, at Minnesota and at Nebraska.

Even still, something looks amiss.

Not to discount any defensive issues, but I keep circling back to the offense. KenPom has tabbed the Badgers as top-10 in defensive efficiency for most of the season. (Right now, they’re sixteenth.) The offense isn’t far behind (115.2 points per 100 possessions), but the eye test over the last two weeks tells a different story.

The schedule improves to finish the year with home games against Iowa and Minnesota. But, then the tournament starts and postseason play tends to amplify flaws. I still think Wisconsin’s hampered too often with scoring droughts and rough shooting stretches. So, let’s take a closer look.

-Shooting, In General

Confusingly, Wisconsin’s offensive numbers are still pretty good. Over the last five games, the Badgers have averaged 9.2 turnovers and 12.4 offensive rebounds per game. Efficiency-wise, those two numbers help. Wisconsin’s getting extra possessions and they’re not giving many away. Generally speaking, the Badgers can win just by hitting the offensive glass, limiting turnovers and playing good defense.

With a few exceptions, Greg Gard’s team has been doing that over the last five games, but it hasn’t equated to wins. Some of it has to do with playing on the road, but it’s more. Even in wins, Wisconsin hasn’t shot the ball particularly efficiently.

Take the last five games, for example. Wisconsin has shot 40 percent from the floor, 31 percent from three and 63 percent at the line. The numbers aren’t abysmal, but it’s hard to win games without shooting more efficiently.

Teams have now discovered how to defend Wisconsin, at least for now. Until further notice, opponents should immediately (on the catch) run a weak side double to Ethan Happ, forcing him to dribble out or throw a higher-degree-of-difficulty skip.

The theory being, that first, Happ needs to make a tough play/decision, and second, it forces someone else to make a play. Zak Showalter’s actually shooting 38 percent from three, trailing only D’Mitrik Trice (44 percent) for the team lead.

Off the bench, there’s also not enough consistent shooting beyond Trice. Brevin Pritzl, who’s been awesome for many other reasons, is 26 percent from three and Jordan Hill’s been only slightly better.

-Individual Offensive Performances

Bronson Koenig is back from an injury, and it’s unclear how much it’s still bothering him, if at all. Since returning from injury, he’s averaging 17.6 points per game. (Although he’s shooting just 7-for-23 from three over the same stretch.)

Nigel Hayes has been scoring again with two 20-point games in his last three, and he’s basically stopped shooting threes, which is better for his overall game.

Happ, more than anyone, has been impacted by how opponents are now defending him. He’s been making the right plays mostly, but the double teams have limited his scoring chances. He’s averaging 12.6 points over his last five games, but he’s scored just four points and eight points in the last two losses.

Overall

If we’re being honest, for those who have watched the Badgers this year (even during the high times), Wisconsin hasn’t looked like a top-10 team, or even a top-20 team lately.

Normally, a program ought to be playing its best basketball heading into March. Unfortunately, Wisconsin isn’t peaking at the right time. And, time is running out to get back to their mid-season peak. If Wisconsin makes a run in March, it’s because they’ve improved on the offensive end.