Fiammetta: Ruminations on the Badgers’ 3-game winning streak

first_imgWith Sunday’s win over Northwestern, the Wisconsin Badgers – now No. 15 in the coaches poll and No. 17 in the AP Top 25 – got something they hadn’t had all season long: an extended Big Ten winning streak.Trouncing the Wildcats gave the Badgers their third consecutive victory, and it came in resounding fashion. Freshman guard Josh Gasser produced the first triple-double in UW history with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the 78-46 blowout, and Wisconsin’s offense operated with lethal efficiency. For the game, the Badgers averaged 1.6 points per possession – significantly higher than their season average of 1.2, third in the nation.In the three-game winning streak, Wisconsin gained some stability after a tough overtime loss at Michigan State Jan. 11. The loss, while not crushing, saw the Badgers lead by as much as 12 and would have been a landmark win on their tournament r?sum? come March.Nevertheless, UW has righted the ship, and questions regarding the lack of a strong third option have been replaced by claims of how strong a team the Badgers are. Here’s what we learned about the Badgers in these last three games:Jon Leuer is no longer the Badgers’ most important playerMake no mistake – Jon Leuer is arguably Wisconsin’s most talented player. The 6-foot-10, 228-pound forward’s guard-like ball skills and prowess in the post are well-recognized, and he still leads the team in points (19.2) and rebounds (6.9) per game. His ability to knock down shots from outside (.471 from behind the arc, second on the team) opens up the offense and forces defenses to pay attention to another man far from the hoop.Yet, Jon Leuer is no longer the most important player for Wisconsin.That title now belongs to Jordan Taylor. UW’s point guard averages 17.4 points per game and manages to pull down 4.5 rebounds per game, but his contributions have the most impact in the way he runs the offense. Taylor’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.1 (87 assists/21 turnovers) is top in the nation, as is Wisconsin’s as a team (1.8, 273/148).With Jordan Taylor running the offense, the Badgers find great shot opportunities and do not turn the ball over; they have a remarkably strong chance of winning any game, in or out of the Big Ten. The same can be said of Leuer, but to a lesser extent. Last year, Leuer missed nine games with a broken wrist – and Wisconsin went 6-3.This year, the Badgers are even better. With Leuer out, they can still win. If Taylor goes down, though, UW is in trouble.Wisconsin’s offense is rollingWhen people watch Wisconsin’s offense, they typically think one of two things. As things often are, it’s a love/hate relationship. Many hate it, finding the 20- or 30-second-long possessions unbearable. Others love it, seeing it as basketball at its purest.In their last three games, the Badgers have surely gained many supporters from the latter category. When Wisconsin is at its best – as it has been lately – the head and ball fakes keep defenders way off-kilter, passes are crisp and accurate and shot selection is near-perfect.Since falling to Michigan State, Wisconsin is averaging 74.3 points per game – four more than its season average. In that same period of time, the Badgers shot 47.8 perfect from the floor – better than their average of 44.9 percent – and averaged just five turnovers per game – down from their average of 7.8, top in the nation.When UW converts on shot opportunities and holds onto the ball, it will, at the very least, remain very, very competitive in every game it plays. But when the Badgers do things like get to the foul line even more than they typically do – 21 free throw attempts per game in this three-game stretch, up from 16.3 per game – and hits those shots – 85.7 percent from the line, up from 81.9 percent (already the nation’s best) – they’re nearly impossible to beat.Role players’ roles are becoming clearerWhile Gasser’s triple-double opened many eyes throughout the nation, very few on Bo Ryan’s coaching staff were concerned, least of all himself. After all, Gasser nearly broke the UW record for points in a freshman debut with 21 in Wisconsin’s season-opener against Prairie View A&M. His 5.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game may be fairly nondescript, but his presence remains felt.Gasser’s rare confidence as a freshman mixed with his ability to remain calm in the face of pressure – he made the winning play Dec. 11 at Marquette, knocking the ball out of bounds off of Dwight Buycks’ foot – significantly enhance his ball skills, most notably his prowess as a passer. His 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio is astounding, especially for a freshman.Consequently, Gasser seems to have cemented his return to the starting lineup – at least for the time being. Joining him as key contributors outside of Taylor, Leuer and Keaton Nankivil are Mike Bruesewitz and Tim Jarmusz. Jarmusz starts at the 3-spot for UW, alongside Gasser and Taylor, and his numbers are even less impressive than the former’s. Yet, Jarmusz has started five games this year – including the last five – and for good reason. He has contributed 24 assists and only turned the ball over three times in an average of 22.8 minutes of playing time per game – a ridiculous 8-assist-to-turnover ratio. Jarmusz is also a strong outside shooter (.364 from three-point range) and defender, lending to his reputation as the ultimate role player.Bruesewitz, meanwhile, has built on a surprising freshman year to emerge as another one of the first players off the bench for UW. Seemingly even taller than his listed 6-foot-6 thanks to his budding red-orange afro, Bruesewitz is also an accomplished long-range shooter, nailing 35.1 percent of his three-point shots to average 5.3 points per game. His rebounding numbers aren’t eye-popping – 2.9 per game – but his hustle play on the boards and for loose balls truly makes him one of those players that can’t accurately be defined by statistics.For any proof of the validity of that last statement, just ask Ryan.“I told him, ‘If you don’t play a little bit better today, I think you are going to have to get a haircut.’ He played pretty well,” Ryan said after the second Illinois game. “I didn’t really say that, but Mike was everywhere, diving on the floor; offensively, good hands against their pressure, he showed me something there. That is the way Mike Bruesewitz played last year, kind of loose.”Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What are your thoughts on men’s hoops? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mikefiammetta.last_img

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