Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Comparisons up the Wazzou

Sunday afternoon Charlie and I watched a Big Ten basketball preview on ESPN, an ESPNU-branded superficial look at the conferences the network covers.

The announcing tandem first covered Purdue, then Michigan State, then the Badgers. Analyst Adrian Branch, in describing Wisconsin, referred to the team as a "Midwest version of Washington State." I looked at team statistics from last year, and Wisconsin led the nation in scoring defense, yielding only 54.4 points per game. Wazzou was tied for second at 56.4 ppg.

But even though Washington State has been very successful the last couple years under Tony Bennett, I resent the comparison and implication. Hell, I think Washington State should even resent it. Because no matter how long Bo Ryan has been coaching in Madison, or how much Tony may have changed things in Pullman, the implication is still that these teams play good defense, but it's only because they're limited offensively and are forced to win playing ugly.

Don't get me wrong, I love Dick Bennett and forever credit him for the work he did building Wisconsin basketball in all his stops around the state along the way. But I never liked the fact that in his system, it seemed that offense was sacrificed for defense except in rare cases. Rare was the team or player who had it both ways. It was really nasty basketball at times.

Wisconsin doesn't play like that now. We have guys who are talented offensively but can also be lockdown defenders. Marcus Landry could start for just about any team in the country because of his all-around skills.

We have it both ways. Yes, we led the nation in scoring defense last year, but we were also seventh nationally in scoring margin, averaging 67.3 ppg, a 12.9 ppg advantage. Guess how many times we averaged 67.3 ppg under Bennett? Zero.

Our lowest-scoring team under Bo was his first, 2001-2002, which averaged 67 ppg. Bennett's highest-scoring team was his first, 1995-96, which averaged 66.1 ppg. Those of us who went to a lot of games in '95-'96 might have a hard time believing that.

(Wazzou managed a 10-point spread because they had some guys who could put the ball in the basket, as well as defend.)

Yet college basketball analysts everywhere cling to their outdated opinions of of what Wisconsin basketball is all about.

In the end, though, the most important opinions have to do with wins and losses. To that end, Branch picked the Badgers to win the Big Ten this year. I wouldn't agree, but it's nice to hear.


Tyler Feuling said...

I go to Wazzu, and I agree. Washington State isnt nearly as physical as Wisconsin and rarely shows up in big games. Now with their seniors gone from last year who helped them gain national notoriety, the true test begins. Wisconsin always seems to reload and not have to change much and WSU will have to rebuild first before they can be competitive.

Scott Tappa said...

I hope WSU is good again, always pulling for Tony out there.

BTW, thanks for the comment the other day Tyler, I appreciate it!

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