Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Cal State Fullerton Titans

Since I don't have a videotape lackey, I must rely on statistics to scout out the Badgers' first round opponents. As many articles have related, California State University at Fullerton (CSF) is a small team that plays at a fast pace. How fast? Well, of over 340 Division-I basketball teams, CSF plays at the 15th fastest pace. The only team UW has played that runs at a faster pace is Duke, who's 13th. (Uh oh. See here.) UW, conversely, is way way down at the end of that list, among the slowest paced teams in the nation. Not as slow as, say, Georgetown or Washington State, but pretty darn slow.

Why does this matter? Well, UW likes to slow things down because they value each possession. Bo's a believer in the points per possession statistic, and has figured out that if you can average a decent rating there (say slightly over 1) then you tend to win. So, from their perspective, it doesn't really matter how many raw points you score. What matters is being efficient with your opportunities-- taking high quality shots, drawing fouls if you can (free throws are the some of the easiest shots), and not turning the ball over. The same theory applies to defense-- play tough defense on each possession, try not to foul, and don't turn the ball over so the other team gets easy fast break opportunities. This theory works well if you've got solid post players (post shots are generally high quality and putting the ball in the post increases your chances of drawing a foul or creating an open jumper for a teammate). Wisconsin's been lucky enough to have guys like Mike Wilkinson, Alando, and this year Butch and Landry-- all of whom are solid inside players. That's also why Wisconsin runs the swing-- in it, everyone can post up and it's premised on hunting around for the best posting match-up. This offensive theory may not work as well if you're more perimeter dominated, or if you lack guards who can function as post players.

CSF is definitely perimeter oriented. (See their stats here.) A smaller, quicker team that's full of good shooters is often best served by running the ball up the court and taking faster shots. This prevents opposing teams' big men from running back and clogging up the lane, and is the smaller team's best shot at efficient offense. These types of teams may stress turnovers as a way to get even more easy baskets. And as a successful small team, CSF is very good at creating turnovers (they're 50th in the country), and they shoot a high percentage (18th in shooting percentage). That all makes sense because turnovers often lead to easy baskets. CSF is also surprisingly smart with the ball for a fast paced team. They, like UW, don't turn the ball over very often (37th lowest turnover percentage). That may be because they shoot before they have a chance to travel or make a bad pass.

Oddly, that's fine by UW's standards. UW isn't a turnover forcing defense. I think they've figured out that trying too hard to create turnovers often leads to too many fouls, and thus sort of cancels out the benefit of getting the turnover. UW wants to get back on defense and force you into tough jump shots with their five-on-five defense. And they've been fabulous at doing that this season.

To get to the point, CSF's whole system depends on creating turnovers, pushing the pace, and getting easy baskets. UW's whole system depends on judicious offense and full-team defense. I doubt that UW will have a ton of turnovers in this game, so that should crimp CSF's style, though they guards will likely play Marquette and Purdue style pressing, handsy, man-to-man D. If CSF can't get turnovers, what they'll probably try to do is run back after long rebounds and maybe take pull-up jumpers in semi-transition-- like when it's 4 on 4 or 3 on 3. I really think that's CSF's shot-- try to create turnovers, and if that doesn't work try to get decent looks in semi-transition. I could totally see them shooting a lot of semi-transition threes (and they're quite good shooters generally, so this is something to be concerned about). If CSF is getting good looks that way, I bet Bo pulls Butch and Stiemsma and puts a Hughes, Flowers, Bohannon, Krabby, Landry combo on the floor. Maybe with some relief minutes from Jarmusz and Leuer. I think that should throw a wrench in the semi-transition offense for CSF, and would still allow Landry to operate in the post. I could see him having a big game, and our traditional "bigs" not playing that much. Kind of like what happened against Northwestern in Madison-- Butch and Stiemsma were pretty quiet and Landry had 20 points. It'd be funny, since one of the other stories leading up to this game is our height vs. their lack of height.

Anyway, that's what to look for-- UW forcing them into contested jumpers with their half-court defense, and UW not turning the ball over. If those things happen, you have to like UW's chances. CSF's defense isn't that great besides their ability to create turnovers (they're decent defensive rebounders, but they give up high shooting percentages), so if the Badgers hold onto the ball they should get good shots off or get fouled. A good development to look for would be some of CSF's forwards getting into foul trouble, since they're not a deep team and that means UW is running their offense effectively. Anyhow, as Badger fans lets hope that UW rolls and crushes Cinderella's slipper. Game on.

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