Badgers' first loss became a big win

Wisconsin's preseason trip to Canada sparked new offensive ideas for Bo Ryan

Originally Published: April 1, 2014
By C.L. Brown | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- What could unofficially be termed Wisconsin's first game of the 2013-14 season did as much to help its Final Four run as any regular-season game. The Badgers played Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, in the first of a five-game exhibition tour.

They played by FIBA rules.

They used a 24-second shot clock.

They absolutely got run out of the gym.

The Ravens, who won their 10th Canadian Interuniversity Sport title in the past 12 years in early March, played at a pace and style comparable to VCU. After trailing by as many as 22 points, the Badgers lost 95-82.

[+] EnlargeBo Ryan
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesCoach Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers aren't playing the same style of basketball fans are used to.

Wisconsin wasn't quite used to playing so fast, but it was intrigued by it. Point guard Traevon Jackson said the Badgers believed they had a team that could play faster and be tougher to stop scoring than coach Bo Ryan's previous teams in Madison.

"When we went to Canada, I was just telling everybody, like, why not? Why can't we do the things that we want to do?" Jackson said.

The Badgers were less concerned about the defensive holes they showed and more impressed by the offensive flashes they saw.

Junior center Frank Kaminsky was nowhere near the guy who could drop 28 points on Arizona in the regional final. He was much closer to being the guy who averaged just 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds as a sophomore. But he gave a glimpse of what was to come by scoring 11 of the Badgers' first 23 points against Carleton.

Sophomore forward Sam Dekker showed he was ready for his expanded role by scoring a team-high 28 points.

Jackson was a player many fans weren't sold would be the starting point guard by season's end. But he scored 19 points and proved he was better than the 29 percent 3-point shooter he was last season.

From a surface view, losing to Carleton might have signaled trouble ahead, but for the Badgers it hinted at the possibilities ahead.

"We were talking about the Final Four this summer just to get that mindset, just to think about it is huge," Jackson said. "We lost our first game to a really good team up there, but it was good to see the type of talent we had."

Ryan said it was then he first thought this could be the team that took him to his first Final Four.

Wisconsin had to replace a talented front line lost to graduation, but Ryan saw that Kaminsky and Dekker were ready to step into those roles. He was also pleased by what he saw from Josh Gasser, who returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that kept him out all of last season, even though he played limited minutes early.

"I just felt something good," Ryan said. "But the one thing I wasn't going to do is, I was a lot tougher on this group than I was on last year's group. I just wasn't going to accept them not understanding that they could be pretty good."

[+] EnlargeBen Brust, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin's program has been built on defense, but this season the Badgers can score, as well.

Wisconsin has lived up to the offensive potential it showed in Canada.

The Badgers have made good offensively in a way they haven't in nearly two decades. They ranked fourth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. They average 73.5 points per game, which would mark the first time they averaged more than 73 since the 1993-94 season, when they averaged 77.9 points.

"Trae[von] and Sam kind of talked about that before the season on how we were going to change the culture," Kaminsky said. "... We mixed in offense this year."

Guard Ben Brust added that the trip to Canada helped the culture within the locker room. The Badgers had a lot of down time in between practices and games, so they grew closer off the court. It manifests itself in the way they share the ball on offense. Brust said he can always depend on that extra pass being made to generate a good shot.

"We really came together up there and got even closer from that point on until now," Brust said. "I care about each and every single guy in this locker room. And it's very special to get to go to the Final Four and celebrate with people I really care about."

Of the teams left in the Final Four, Wisconsin (73.2 PPG) is second to Connecticut (76.8 PPG) in average points scored in NCAA tournament games. 

"We have this stigma about Wisconsin as a type of program or certain type of way that there's only one way we play," Jackson said. "I think this year we've broken a lot of barriers."

There's still one barrier the Badgers hope they don't break in Arlington, Texas. They still haven't lost to another team outside of the Big Ten Conference since that August game against Carleton.

C.L. Brown | email

College Basketball

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