Lukas Harkins | @hardwiredsports | 06/03/20
Wisconsin was in an interesting position in early February of this past season after a blowout road loss to Minnesota left them at a 13-10 (6-6 Big Ten) record. The team had also recently lost Kobe King as he left the program to transfer to Nebraska. While the Badgers were still in decent shape to reach the NCAA Tournament, they were hanging relatively close to the bubble heading into a closing stretch that included matchups with several future postseason teams.
Rather than backing down from the challenge, Wisconsin rattled off eight consecutive wins to end the regular season as Big Ten champions. It was a remarkably impressive run that jumped them into the national headlines. Putting together that kind of winning streak in the nation’s toughest conference never goes unnoticed. By the time that the Big Dance was canceled (just prior to the B1G Tournament), Wisconsin had risen to a potential No. 4-5 seed in bracketology projections.
The Badgers were simply clicking on all cylinders, and this was particularly true with regard to their 3-point shooting. Over the course of their final eight games, the team shot 86-for-210 (41.0 percent) from beyond the arc while hitting over 10 trifectas per game.
For reference, just one team in the entire country (BYU) shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range last season. Additionally, only nine teams averaged 10+ made threes per game, and those teams combined to connect on 37.1 percent of their many attempts.
Given those statistics, Wisconsin’s shooting streak to end the year wasn’t just hot, it was scorching. Additionally, considering the Badgers were just 33.0 percent from distance over the first 23 contests of the campaign, this shooting turnaround was arguably the primary reason for their winning streak.
It wasn’t just one or two players catching fire, either. To summarize, here is a quick look at each of Wisconsin’s main shooters’ career percentages prior to the final eight games (Feb. 8th) compared to how they shot the three during the stretch.
Trice and Davison, most notably, vastly exceeded their usual numbers. That is significant considering they ranked first and third on the roster in 3-point attempts last season. Pritzl was second, but he graduated this offseason (not an insignificant loss either considering his consistency from beyond the arc).
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Is this shooting sustainable heading into the 2020-21 season?
That is the question that Wisconsin will need to answer. With so much of the roster returning after winning the Big Ten title during this past campaign, expectations are going to be sky-high in Madison. The Badgers are a lock to be ranked in the preseason Top 15 with their core intact and will be on the shortlist of potential national title contenders.
My concern, though, is where the team falls if it is not connecting at a high rate from 3-point range. I’m not trying to say that Wisconsin will struggle to win games if it is not hitting at ~40 percent, but it could have a very difficult time living up to expectations. After all, the team spent most of last season hovering around the NCAA Tournament bubble before scorching the nets down the stretch and the rotation is largely the same.
With the team mostly running back the same rotation (sans-Pritzl), it’s worth wondering just how big of a jump they can really make. The Badgers essentially only played like a Top 15 team last season for the relatively small eight-game sample size already discussed. It is also worth mentioning that although Wisconsin has a strong recruiting class coming in, none of their freshmen are well-known to be snipers.
So, did Wisconsin really turn the corner last season and emerge as an elite shooting team…or will it fall back to the middle of the nation in that category? Wisconsin’s offense only finished last season ranked at 40th in the nation in adjusted efficiency even with its hot shooting down the stretch.
When the Badgers’ offense was running at its best last season, it was not only hitting threes but hoisting them at a high rate. By seasons end, they ranked 31st in the nation in 3PAr and will likely run a similar offensive style in 2020-21.
In order for them to compete for the national title with this style of play, Wisconsin probably needs to hit in the upper-30s by percentage from distance. That’s not a historic rate by any stretch, but it would likely take across-the-board improvements from the roster. A strong eight-game sample cannot undo how the team shot over its first 23 contests.
Quite simply, Wisconsin relies too heavily on the three to be successful when not hitting. They finished just 3-8 in games where they shot below 30 percent from beyond the arc, and that includes a win over Eastern Illinois. They were an undefeated 14-0 when over 35 percent. That level of correlation cannot go unnoticed, particularly not considering their high rate of 3-point attempts.
Wisconsin is definitely an interesting team to monitor heading into this coming season. The Badgers will be facing extremely high expectations as a likely preseason Top 15 team, but are those expectations based on a shooting emergence, or just an eight-game facade? They will be an excellent team either way, but elite perimeter shooting could make them a national title contender.
Lukas Harkins is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com and covers the nation with rankings, bracketology, analysis, and recruiting breakdowns. He is currently a Rockin’ 25 voter and is credentialed media for Butler. He previously worked as one of the site experts at Busting Brackets. Harkins graduated from Butler University in 2019 and majored in Healthcare and Business.