Fun and Gun Meet in Wisconsin?
The new college basketball rules have been in place for almost two weeks now, and they are achieving their intended results, as scoring across the NCAA has increased. More fouls are being called, more free throws are being shot, and teams that struggled to score in years past are finding easier driving lanes and more open shots than ever. The new rules have arguably affected one team more than any other.
For the past 12 years, Bo Ryan has had an astounding amount of success coaching the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers. Year after year, his teams slow the pace, score between 64-67 points per game, and rank in the top 10 nationally in fewest points allowed. College basketball fans always moan and groan about how unwatchable the Badgers are and how Ryan’s approach to the game sets basketball back 40 years. You can’t argue with the results that his system produces, though. With Ryan on the sidelines, the Badgers have never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten Conference and have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of his 12 years at the helm. This year looks to be no different in those regards, but it does look different in one major aspect: the elimination of hand-checking and most physical contact means that the Badgers, who recruit spot-up shooters, are suddenly scoring points in bunches. Badgers fans are delirious with delight.
The season opener saw the rules strictly enforced — there were 53 free throws shot in the game — as Wisconsin defeated the St. John’s Red Storm 86-75. Then, after an old-school defensive battle with the Florida Gators, who are also traditionally one of the best defensive teams in America, the Badgers eclipsed their usual scoring average (albeit only by two) in a 69-66 road win at Horizon League favorite University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix. Those three games showed that the Badgers could shoot the long ball and score in transition, since opponents were not allowed to be physical when guarding the Wisconsin swing offense. The coaches and players used last weekend to study how the new rules were affecting their offense, and they reformed the offense accordingly. The stage was set for history to be made a few days later.
On Tuesday night, junior center Frank Kaminsky set a school record with 43 points against the University of North Dakota, while the team broke the 100 point barrier for the first time since 1995. Wisconsin had 55 points at halftime, which was more than it scored in nine games total last season. Tonight, the Badgers scored a more humane, but still ridiculous-for-Wisconsin 44 points at halftime and 88 in the game against the Bowling Green Falcons. Last year, the Badgers usually scored about 32 points in the first half. The rule changes are definitely working.
The season is only five games old, but Wisconsin is scoring an absurd 81 points per game, which is an increase of 16 points per game from the team’s average under Ryan. The scoring average will dip when Big Ten play commences, but once postseason play starts, Wisconsin will be able to compete with other high scoring teams. In the past two years alone, physical play in both the conference and NCAA Tournaments meant that Wisconsin scored 52, 60, 63, 68, 68, 43 and 46 points in their games. Look for those numbers to go up significantly. Going forward, Wisconsin has turned into a serious threat both to win the Big Ten and to make a deeper-than-usual run in March.