(Editors Note: All this week we’ll be counting down the four reasons Wisconsin can win the National Championship in our “Final Four Countdown”)
When you think Wisconsin basketball, you think defense first…usually. Not with the 2013 team though, as they are giving up 63.7 points per game on the defensive end, which is the most it has given up since the Alando Tucker-led 2005-06 season (65 points per game).
Just how big of a deal is it to allow opponents to average 60 points per game? In Ryan’s 13 years at the helm of the program it’s happened just four times. So, it was a big deal that the Badgers defense wasn’t what it used to be—that is, until the NCAA tournament rolled around.
It’s where Wisconsin found its defensive prowess once again. In four games so far this tournament, the Badgers have allowed just one opponent over the 63 point average (Oregon’s 77 points) and are averaging 56.7 points a game on defense.
However, it’s been the lessons learned during the five of six game losing streak earlier in the season that propelled the difference we’ve seen in the past two weeks.
“Definitely,” said Dekker of the lessons learned during the losing streak. “Ever since we went through that little stretch of losing, we buckled down mentally and physically as a group on defense, and that’s what’s really gotten us to this point is stopping teams and not letting them get the easy buckets like they were able to get when we were losing.”
It’s been a quick and stunning turn of events, but it’s exactly why the Badgers are in Arlington, Texas. It’s also a hot-streak that needs to continue in order for the Badgers to advance past Kentucky and contend for a national championship.
While the scoring defensive numbers are flashy, it’s the numbers inside that stat that really matter. By that we mean it’s the field goal shooting, lack of free throws and the rebounding that has really turned the corner for the Badgers defensive effort.
The Badgers have forced opponents to shoot just over five percent worse against UW than they have all season (37.5 percent in tourney, 42.7 percent on the season), while also forcing a worse three-point shooting percentage (31.4 percent to 34 percent) and are giving up fewer rebounds (30.5 to 31.9).
One of the cornerstones to that change has been Sam Dekker of all players. He may be averaging just 9.2 points per game in the tournament (with a tourney high 12 points against Oregon), but it’s his six rebounds per game average that has turned heads. Other than a two-rebound performance against Baylor, Dekker has chipped in extensively on the defensive end of the court.
Dekker is just .2 rebounds a game off from leading Wisconsin in that category—something few would’ve thought could happen when the season began. Yet, it hasn’t been just this game, as Dekker has 19 games this season with seven or more rebounds to his name.
On Saturday against Kentucky, Dekker will need to play a key role again, as Kentucky plays with a lot of length on their team. He will need to help on a tandem of guards that are 6’5″ and above.
Whether Willie Cauley-Stein plays or not, Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes need to continue to make opponents pay for coming in the lane like they have in the past three games or so. It’s been UW’s ability to force teams in to bad shots or to run an offense they aren’t used to that’s made the difference.
The traditional Badgers defense may not have come in to place until late in the season, but it came at just the right time. For Wisconsin to continue on its journey through the NCAA tournament, that defense can’t abandon the Badgers this weekend.