NCAA Basketball Handicapping: Wisconsin Badgers a Serious Title Contender?
by Trevor Whenham - 2/22/2015
The NCAA Tournament this year is shaping up in the eyes of many as a coronation for the ridiculously-loaded Kentucky Wildcats. Being contrary by nature, I am on the ongoing search for teams that legitimately have a chance to knock off John Calipari's squad. The problem is that there just aren't many out there. Duke gets the most attention. In many ways, though, Wisconsin and their older, experienced roster may have the best chance of anyone.
So, can the Badgers make another deep run? Can they be the ones who slay the giants? Let's take a look:
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Nice numbers: There are a few statistics that really pop out for this team and make it much easier to trust them as a legitimate national title threat. The first is the fact that they are currently in possession of the most efficient offense in the country. That's so important because it means that they are able to maximize the impact of every possession. Contributing to that efficiency is a couple of other stats. For one, the team is excellent in avoiding turnovers. They have given up an average of just 7.4 turnovers per game. Virginia is second-best in the country at 8.6 per game. They are also the least penalized team in the country. Add it all up and you have an ideal package -- the team doesn't turn the ball over, they avoid fouls that take the ball out of their hands, and they make the most of every possession they have. No wonder that they aren't losing very often -- and that no one wants to play them at this point.
Frank Kaminsky: Coming into the season there was a whole lot of pressure on the shoulders of this big guy. He has more than lived up to it. The senior seven-footer leads the team in almost every statistical category and is locked in a battle with Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor in the race for National Player of the Year. His impact is felt everywhere on the court and is a huge reason that this team is likeable.
Traevon Jackson: Normally it would seem to be a disaster when an elite team like this one loses their point guard, who was one of their most important and talented players, to a broken foot. That's what happened to Jackson, who has now missed 10 games and could be back soon. Instead of a disaster, though, the injury has potentially created a point guard controversy. Sophomore Bronson Koenig has started all 10 games, and the team has not lost with him in charge. He keeps improving and had his best offensive game last time out against Minnesota. Having two good point guards heading into the tournament is a nice luxury, but only if they can be balanced and playing time can be split effectively between them. We will have to watch Bo Ryan closely when Jackson returns to see how effectively he can deal with this situation. If he can turn it into a big positive then this team will be even tougher to beat. If it becomes a distraction, though, then it could be what brings the team down prematurely.
Schedule: The Big Ten isn't as tough as it has been recently, but there is still plenty of challenge ahead. They have four conference games remaining, and three of the four are against teams in the Top 5 in the 14-team conference. They play at Maryland and Ohio State - the two other ranked teams in the conference right now - and at home against Michigan State. It's the toughest challenge they have faced in the conference this year and will give us the best sense we can have of where this team is at heading into the postseason. It also puts massive pressure on them - a top seed in the NCAA Tournament is theirs to lose, so how they respond facing that will be very telling. A top seed this year is particularly important because it means you get to avoid Kentucky for as long as possible.
ATS performance: From a pure betting perspective this team has not been elite - though they aren't a disaster by any means. They sit at 14-12-1 ATS, so they are only barely better than a break-even betting proposition over the year. They are only 2-4 ATS in their last six games, so they aren't at their current betting peak. They are just 4-5-1 ATS with Koenig at the point compared to 10-7 ATS with Jackson starting, so bettors might have a preference in the race for the starter down the stretch.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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