Wisconsin Basketball: Final 2013-14 Grades for Badgers After Final Four Loss
It's hard to consider a season a success when it ends in defeat, but what Wisconsin was able to achieve during the 2013-14 college basketball campaign is as close as a team can get.
The Badgers (30-8) made their first Final Four since 2000, bouncing back from a rough midseason stretch to put together five straight great games during the NCAA tournament. And while it fell 74-73 to Kentucky in Saturday's national semifinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Wisconsin was in the game from start to finish and only lost in the final seconds.
The final game is often what people bring up first when describing a season, but Wisconsin's effort this year needs to be graded from November through early April.
Here are our final grades for Wisconsin in 2013-14.
Wisconsin started the same five players all season, which is a rarity in today's college basketball world. Before each of the Badgers' 38 games, the lineup of Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky hit the floor and combined to average more than 31 minutes per contest.
This stability wasn't just a testament to Wisconsin's amazing health; it also showed how dependable Bo Ryan's choice in starters was. While the bench provided key contributions all season, it was the starting five who carried the Badgers to within one game of a championship appearance.
Brust was the only senior of the group, and he'll go out as the school's all-time career three-point leader, hitting 96 this season and 235 overall.
Along with Brust, the Badgers had two other capable ball-handlers in Gasser and Jackson, while all five guys could hit three-pointers when needed. There wasn't a noticeable weak link in the group.
The Badgers bench wasn't a deep one, as only three guys saw significant minutes. But those three players—junior Duje Dukan and freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig—were all valuable pieces to the season-long puzzle.
Hayes, who was named the Big Ten sixth man of the year, gave Wisconsin some nice size and strength inside, shooting 51 percent and averaging 7.7 points in just 17.4 minutes per game. Dukan and Koenig were two change-of-pace shooters. In particular, Koenig showed that the Badgers' point guard future is bright with his ball-handling and 2.5-1 ratio of assists to turnovers.
Wisconsin shot just less than 46 percent for the season, which put it in the top 100 in Division I. And that shooting came from all players, as none of the Badgers' top eight players shot less than 40.8 percent.
The swing offense that Bo Ryan used helped keep the ball moving around all season, allowing for the best possible shot in most possessions. Frank Kaminsky was the driving force inside, making 58 percent of his two-point shots and shooting 52.8 percent overall. He was also one of four starters who hit on better than 37 percent of their three-point attempts.
The Badgers were also clutch at the free-throw line, shooting 74.6 for the season. Ironically, despite going 19-of-20 from the line in the Final Four loss to Kentucky, it was that one miss (on the first of three foul shots by Traevon Jackson with 15 seconds left) that contributed to the end of Wisconsin's season.
Rebounding the basketball might have been Wisconsin's biggest weakness all season, though the numbers are misleading.
The Badgers finished the year with just a plus-1.4 rebounding margin—not at the level of most top teams, despite having a front line that included a 7-footer in Frank Kaminsky. He led the team with 6.3 rebounds per game, while Josh Gasser averaged 6.1.
However, because Wisconsin was such a strong shooting team, it didn't need to rely much on rebounding for its scoring. Its 8.9 offensive rebounds per game ranked in the bottom 50 nationally.
Defensively, the lack of strength on the boards enabled opponents to rebound 27 percent of their misses—a disadvantage that cost the Badgers in many of their losses this season.
This wasn't the typical grind-it-out Wisconsin team that we has grown used to over the years, as a more uptempo offense led to higher-scoring games. Still, the Badgers only allowed 64 points per game and held opponents to 42.9 percent shooting.
But Wisconsin did struggle with teams that liked to run, as six of its eight losses came in games when it allowed 72 or more points.
The lackluster rebounding numbers enabled teams to get out in transition more than the Badgers would have liked, but when the game became a half-court one, the results were better.
Bo Ryan has won 704 games and four NCAA Division III titles in his 30-year head coaching career, and he's led Wisconsin to the NCAA tournament in each of his 13 seasons. But he also had the label of being one of the best coaches never to take a team to the Final Four.
That changed this season, and it was because he took his foot off the brake and let Wisconsin's offense run more than it ever has before. Though the swing offense remained in place, the Badgers looked to push the tempo whenever possible, knowing they could fall back into familiar and successful approaches when needed.
Older coaches tend not to adjust their styles, but Ryan recognized this unit could score unlike any he'd had in his tenure. Letting the Badgers loose helped put them over the top this year.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Wisconsin's athletic department website.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.