Wisconsin was downed 64-63 by Syracuse in last night’s Sweet 16 game despite hitting 14 3-pointers, Jared Berggren putting on a large Big Ten white guy clinic, and lots of rhapsodic bench celebrations.
Most fans of the men in red felt exasperated when they saw the 14 3’s stat. We made 14 3-pointers, and lost?
But the Badgers actually shot 27 3-pointers. They only shot 49 times all game, meaning over half of all the shots they took last night were of the lowest percentage in the game variety.
The reason the Badgers shot so many 3’s last night was because they spent much of each possession passing around at the top of the key, and the reason they spent much of each possession passing around at the top of the key is the ultimate reason why they can beat good teams, but not great teams like Syracuse: Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense doesn’t always work and they have no player who can create his own shot when it doesn’t.
As those stats show, the Badgers did two things basically half of the time on offense last night:
- Swung the ball 30 feet from the hoop, tried to pass to guy at the heart of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, eventually entered the ball to guy – when the shot clock was about to sound. Guy forced to kick it back outside, 3-point shot.
- Swung the ball 30 feet from the hoop, tried but failed to pass to guy at the heart of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, 3-point shot.
Half of all possessions the Badgers had last night unfolded that way and ended in 3-point shots. They happened that way because there is no Badger right now who can create his own shot. Maybe no Badger player could ever create his own shot, or maybe the Swing has given players who could a “Pass First, Even If Dribbling Would Result in a Better Shot” mentality. Whatever the reason is, last night no Badger could create a high-quality shot off the dribble. The Badgers swung the ball around the 3-point line and Syracuse’s defenders flew around trying to catch up to it, but the Badgers always passed out of the pressure instead of using it to their advantage and driving. Bo’s offense has created players unselfish to a fault.
Against teams that are good but not great, Bo’s offense and philosophy work beautifully and fans love it. Because of it, the Badgers are fundamentally perfect and never beat themselves and play so slowly that it seems like they might not be trying but so smart that they can beat more talented teams.
Their offensive mentality is almost like the offensive mentality of the best soccer team in the world, FC Barcelona. Most soccer teams are very direct, passing forward quickly and shooting at every opportunity to give themselves as many chances to score in the game as possible. They play a percentage game. Barcelona plays a possession game. They pass and pass and pass and when all that passing has put them in a good position to shoot they pass some more until they are in a great position to shoot. It’s called tiki-taka. Wikipedia says it’s characterized by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession. It’s about trying to score not by running faster and shooting harder and putting the ball in threatening positions as many times as possible, but by using the central soccer premise that the ball can be passed faster than it can be dribbled to get quality opportunities to score.
But if Barcelona would not be the best team in the world if they were married to this philosophy at all times. Great teams can usually still mark Barca’s players as they try to pass their way to goals. Even though Barca is known for tiki-taka, it’s when a player like Leo Messi or Andres Iniesta decides to unshackle himself from it and dribble past his marker that the team arrives upon goal-scoring chances.
If the Badgers want to break into the last rounds of the NCAA tournament in future years, they must have Messi’s and Iniesta’ who, when come moments in which the seconds on the shot clock are waning, are wise enough to not play so smart.