Wisconsin mailbag: Would Badgers be in playoff with better schedule strength; stat that sums up basketball team’s struggles

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Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss whether Wisconsin could have made a College Football Playoff run with a better strength of schedule, which statistic best sums up the basketball team’s early-season struggles, where 2018 defensive lineman commit Bryson Williams stands in his recruiting, differences between Bo Ryan and Greg Gard and more.


Question 1

Answer: That’s a really interesting hypothetical question. Obviously, a better BYU team would have enhanced Wisconsin’s schedule strength and likely put to rest the idea that the Badgers didn’t play anybody. BYU finished the season 4-9 and ranked No. 113 in the country. I’m basing the strength of schedule information on Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, which you can find here.

Let’s examine the four teams that made the College Football Playoff. No. 1 Clemson lost 27-24 to a bad Syracuse team that finished 4-8 and ranks No. 73 in the Sagarin Ratings. But the Tigers were forgiven for that performance because they went a whopping 7-0 against top-30 teams and won the ACC championship. No other team in the country had more than five victories against top-30 teams. I don’t have a problem with Clemson earning its way back into the playoff.

No. 2 Oklahoma lost 38-31 to Iowa State despite being a 31-point favorite. It turned out the Cyclones were better than people anticipated and are No. 26 overall in the Sagarin Ratings. Oklahoma went 5-1 against top-30 teams and won the Big 12 championship. The only team with more top-30 victories in the country was Clemson. Again, no major qualms with Oklahoma making the playoff, particularly considering the Sooners also beat Ohio State.

No. 3 Georgia lost 40-17 to Auburn but was fortunate to earn an opportunity for a rematch in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia responded by beating Auburn 28-7. Georgia went 3-1 against the top-30 — just like Wisconsin — but did beat Notre Dame early and won its conference title game.

But the No. 4 spot is where the debate gets interesting. Alabama didn’t even play in the SEC title game because it lost to Auburn in the regular-season finale. Like Wisconsin, Alabama is 12-1 with a 3-1 record against top-30 teams and an 0-1 mark against top-10 teams. Alabama’s schedule strength is No. 56, while Wisconsin’s is No. 50. But Alabama is in the College Football Playoff. No. 5 Ohio State’s schedule strength is No. 28, and the Buckeyes obviously defeated the Badgers in the Big Ten title game. But Iowa also obliterated Ohio State 55-24 during the regular season.

You’ll hear pundits declare that Alabama would kick the snot out of Wisconsin and that the Crimson Tide pass the so-called “eye test” better than the Badgers. But there’s no real way to determine that. Wisconsin lost by six points to Ohio State and had possession with less than three minutes remaining and a chance to win the game.

I don’t know if beating a good BYU team would have made the difference for Wisconsin. It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Sometimes, when a team loses is as important as anything else. But this season provides yet another example why an eight-team playoff would be great. Yes, it’s one more game. But it wouldn’t impact schooling because it would take place over winter break. Plus, we’d actually get to see teams represented from more than just three conferences, which is what happened this season.

Question 2

Answer: I’m going to take wide receiver Kendric Pryor. He has 11 catches for 149 yards with 1 touchdown and already has produced some big moments. He also has 5 carries for 63 yards, including 2 touchdowns on end-around runs.

Pryor showed his athleticism when he outleaped an Iowa defensive back for a touchdown. He set a career-high with 3 catches for 51 yards in the regular-season finale against Minnesota. Miami’s pass defense ranks No. 52 in the FBS (213.7 yards per game), so Wisconsin could have at least some success through the air.

The Hurricanes have to decide which receivers they want to leave in 1-on-1 matchups, and that could be a big advantage for Pryor. Whatever happens, the future is incredibly bright for the Badgers’ receiving group.

Question 3

Answer: Great question, and I thought about a couple different possibilities. The fact Wisconsin ranks No. 263 out of 351 Division I teams in 3-point shooting came to mind (33.0 percent) because the Badgers were supposed to be a decent team from long-range. But the stat I picked is illustrative of what is partially lacking this season.

Wisconsin’s rebounding margin is -0.4. Through 11 games, opponents have actually outrebounded the Badgers 349-345. The game in which this issue was most glaring came in the Big Ten opener against Ohio State, which outrebounded Wisconsin 32-18. I went back and looked at the last time the Badgers were outrebounded during the course of the season. It took place in 2001-02, which was Bo Ryan’s first season in charge.

That 2001-02 team returned only starter Kirk Penney off the previous team, and there wasn’t much experience surrounding him. The Badgers also were two games under .500 in December. Sound familiar?

But that team rallied to forge a first-place tie in the Big Ten and reach the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers did so despite having only eight healthy scholarship players. It was truly one of the more remarkable seasons Wisconsin has had given the low expectations for the team.

At this point, it’s difficult to see the 2017-18 version rallying to do something similar, particularly with the injuries to Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice. Rebounding is about toughness and effort, and that’s something the Badgers’ program has taken pride in for years. The fact Wisconsin coach Greg Gard hasn’t been able to trust forwards Andy Van Vliet, Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas to play significant minutes impacts the rebounding this season.

Question 4

Answer: I’m confident the answer to this question is yes. There’s a generation of fans that has never seen Wisconsin’s basketball team miss the NCAA Tournament, so enduring a subpar season is unusually painful. If it makes you feel any better, Wisconsin went 47 years without an NCAA Tournament appearance until 1994. Something tells me the wait won’t be quite as long this time around.

Question 5

Answer: The most notable on-court difference is that Gard is less demonstrative than Ryan, who irked officials and opposing fans more than once with his fiery demeanor. But that shouldn’t be mistaken for Gard being aloof. He is just as hard on his players in practice for making mistakes and demands as much accountability as Ryan. During practice Thursday, he sent forward Andy Van Vliet to the sideline and had a few choice words for him after Van Vliet did something wrong in half-court possession work.

Much of Gard’s skills as a coach were honed under Ryan’s tutelage, so there are bound to be more similarities than differences. He isn’t afraid to have a quick trigger on a player during a game if he feels someone else can better help the team. I know some fans have complained this season about Gard because the results haven’t been what they’re used to seeing. But one thing about Gard is that he’s going to stick to who he is and what helped him reach this point. And that’s the sign of a coach who won’t panic during difficult times.

Question 6

Answer: I don’t have the inside scoop on Peavy other than to reiterate that he stepped away from the team for personal reasons, as Badgers coach Paul Chryst said during the season. But it’s certainly been one of the more unforeseen developments in 2017, particularly considering how good he was last season.

Peavy caught 43 passes for 635 yards with 5 touchdowns and, as you mention, appeared primed for a big senior season. But he played in five games and caught only 5 passes for 55 yards this season. Sophomore Quintez Cephus quickly developed as Wisconsin’s No. 1 wide receiver, and a group of younger players emerged over the course of the season: Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.

The last time I talked to Peavy, he sounded upbeat about how Wisconsin was playing, even though his individual statistics had dipped. That was back on Oct. 3, which was four games into the season.

“We’re winning games,” Peavy said then. “That’s the biggest thing for me. As long as we’re winning games, I’m on a winning team. I’m on a great team, great group of guys and I’m out there having fun. I’m just trying to embrace every moment with my last year and have fun with it.”

Peavy appeared in one more game before being listed as out with a right leg injury, which Chryst said had been a lingering issue. On Oct. 23, Chryst announced Peavy was taking time away for personal reasons, and that’s the last we heard about Peavy.

Question 7

Answer: The most optimistic outlook is to think this season won’t be much fun but that it will pay off in the long run. Kobe King is out for the season after undergoing left knee surgery. But he can take a medical redshirt season and won’t lose a year of eligibility. If D’Mitrik Trice doesn’t heal quickly from his right foot surgery, he also could earn a medical redshirt season by not playing in more games.

The only senior on Wisconsin’s team is former walk-on Aaron Moesch. It’s possible that forward Ethan Happ will leave school a year early for the NBA draft. But everybody else on the team would return in 2018-19. Trice, Brad Davison, Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson and Aleem Ford would all have starting experience. Perhaps T.J. Schlundt uses this opportunity to show he can be an effective regular rotation player in the future. I don’t know what will happen with the likes of Charlie Thomas, Andy Van Vliet and Alex Illikainen. But they will all be seniors next season, provided they stay. Maybe they can earn playing time down the road.

Things do look bleak now with Wisconsin at 4-7. Badgers fans are not accustomed to watching their team struggle this much. But with most of the group returning, Wisconsin can only improve.

Question 8

Answer: This has to be a difficult decision for defensive lineman Bryson Williams, a 2018 Wisconsin commit who hails from Lincoln, Neb. He did not receive a Nebraska scholarship offer under former coach Mike Riley because the Cornhuskers collected a commitment from in-state prospect Masry Mapieu instead. But new Nebraska coach Scott Frost made Williams a priority by immediately offering him a scholarship and visiting his home.

Williams took his official visit to Wisconsin alongside 15 other Badgers commits this weekend. He told Badger247.com writer Evan Flood afterward that Nebraska coaches hadn’t really pushed him in flipping his commitment. He added that he thought he was “done,” meaning he would pick Wisconsin.

But Williams also posted a photo Sunday night with Nebraska defensive line coach Mike Dawson and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. Both coaches recently joined Nebraska’s staff after following Frost from UCF.

It stands to reason that Williams could visit Nebraska before the early signing period begins Dec. 20. If he does, it could be trouble for Wisconsin. He wants to enroll in school early, so he has limited time to make a decision. But this one could come down to the wire.

Question 9

Answer: Ethan Happ and Brad Davison have been the most consistent players all season, and that’s one of the biggest issues with Wisconsin’s team so far: We don’t know which players will show up on a given night. Khalil Iverson has scored 17 and 16 points in different games, but those came after he was held scoreless. Iverson has missed all 9 of his 3-point attempts. Brevin Pritzl is shooting only 30.8 percent on 3-pointers (12 of 39), and Aleem Ford is at 34.5 percent (10 of 29). Pritzl actually passed up an open 2-point look against Marquette while the entire Kohl Center crowd implored him to shoot. Without D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King, Pritzl’s shooting ability will be even more important.

Forwards Andy Van Vliet, Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen have not given Wisconsin the production it hoped for when those three committed in the 2015 recruiting class. But, as I wrote in a mailbag two weeks ago, no school is going to get it perfect in recruiting because it’s such an inexact science.

In that class, Wisconsin offered forward Carlton Bragg, who committed to Kansas and has since transferred to Arizona State. He had 22 scholarship offers and was never a serious prospect for Wisconsin. Forward Brandon Hutton earned a Wisconsin offer but committed to Iowa and has since transferred to Northwestern State. He is averaging 4.1 points per game and shooting 29.0 percent from the field.

The two forwards who could have picked Wisconsin and didn’t were Esa Ahmad and Josh Sharma. Ahmad had Wisconsin in his top 5 but committed to West Virginia. He is sitting out the first half of this season after failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Wisconsin led in the recruiting hunt for Sharma for several months before he picked Stanford. He is averaging 4.1 points in his junior season and playing 12.5 minutes per game.

In other words, it’s impossible to predict the future when it comes to recruiting.

Have a question about Wisconsin football or basketball? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.

The post Wisconsin mailbag: Would Badgers be in playoff with better schedule strength; stat that sums up basketball team’s struggles appeared first on Land of 10.

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