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January 15, 2014

Mailbag: The wall, Jackson and Vitto





MADISON, Wis. - After suffering their first loss of the season Tuesday night in Bloomington to the Indiana Hoosiers (12-5, 2-2), the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (16-1, 3-1) will look to get back on track Saturday night when they welcome the Michigan Wolverines (12-4, 3-1) to the Kohl Center. In order to do so, however, the Badgers will need to address some weaknesses in their game that were magnified in Tuesday night's loss.

It was a busy first week for the mailbag - with questions ranging from last night's loss to the team in general moving forward.

Indiana and Iowa have exposed serious weaknesses in the Badgers' game in their interior defense and pick-and-roll defense. How do the Badgers make improvements?

Sit in on any Wisconsin basketball practice - or even a high school basketball practice, for that matter - and when it comes time to work on defense, coaches drill the idea of on-the-wall defense into the heads of their players. The basic premise of on-the-ball defense is that if the ball is two or more passes away from the man you are guarding then you are to sink off of your man and be on the "wall" - a theoretical line drawn from the front of the rim to the free-throw line.

What this does is it not only allows for you to get back to your man if there is a skip-pass but it also puts a body in the paint, which helps to cut off dribble-penetration and allows for a defender to help out in pick-and-roll situations so that there are no free lanes to the basket.

In both the Iowa and Indiana games, the Badgers got away from this fundamental defensive philosophy. The Indiana game provided Wisconsin fans with one of the scariest statistics they will see all season as the Hoosiers scored 52 - yes, fifty-two - points in the paint. It's not as if the Hoosiers borrowed Shaquille O'Neal circa 2000 for the night and posted him up all night. The Hoosiers were able to use dribble penetration to get to the rim, while Iowa was able to attack the paint using mainly pick-and-rolls, but the reasoning is the same. This was a direct result of the Badgers playing too tight on their men outside of the paint instead of being on the wall.

Iowa and Indiana rank 11th and 12th in the Big Ten, respectively, in three-point attempts this season so the excuse of trying to take away the three-point shot does not fly in either case.

Now perhaps this had something to do with the foul trouble the Badgers have gotten into, but that still is no excuse to at least have a body in the lane. Expect Bo Ryan to make the necessary adjustments before the Wolverines come into town.

While Traevon Jackson has had some great games this season, including last night, but he sometimes goes through stretches that make me question if he should be the point guard on this team. Am I crazy?

The short answer is no, you are not crazy. The other short answer is well, maybe.

Traevon Jackson ranks 164th in the nation and 11th in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio with 1.92 assists for each of his 37 turnovers this season. That's not a kind statistic to say the least, but at the same time the Badgers are not the type of team and do not run the type of system that produces a crazy amount of assists from the point guard position; everyone shares the ball regardless of position.

I personally do not think that moving say Josh Gasser to the point guard position would bring about as many positive changes to the offense as many people think. Moving Gasser to the point would mean that Jackson would then slide to the '3' position and not only would it give the Badgers even less size up front, but it would limit the amount of post-up opportunities Gasser got on the block and take the ball out of Jackson's hands in late-game situations.

The one area in which Gasser at the point is the move, and I think that Bo Ryan believes this as well is when the opposing team goes into a full-court press.

Jackson has shown an inability to break the press on his own and when he does decide to pass it out of a trap, it has usually resulted in a turnover. Gasser is a natural ball-handler and has such a high basketball-IQ that he knows when to break the press with a dribble and when to swing the ball to the other side in order to avoid a trap-situation.

Ultimately Bronson Koenig will blossom into the perfect Bo Ryan point guard, but until that time comes I believe Jackson is more than capable of running the point for the Badgers.

At the beginning of the season it was no secret that the Badgers would struggle in the front court. While Kaminsky and Hayes have performed exceptionally well 17 games into the season, I can't help but think that Wisconsin needs another big to step up off of the bench. Do the Badgers need more help up front and is there anyone who can provide it?

In four seasons at Bowling Green High School, Vitto Brown became the school's all-time leading rebounder (808) and shot-blocker (336). Brown averaged 23.7 points and 13.0 rebounds as a senior and while he has played in limited minutes this season, just 25, he has grabbed 10 rebounds - the fifth best rebound-per-minute average on the Badgers.

I'm not saying that Brown should be placed into the starting lineup nor should he come off of the bench before Hayes. What I am saying, however, is that Brown needs to be seeing more playing time than he has so far. Even if it is just for a minute or two in relief of Kaminsky when he is in foul trouble, I think that the size and strength of Brown in the paint could actually be a positive for the Badgers. Kaminsky would not log as many minutes as he has so far without running the risk of giving opponents a free pass at the rim. Brown is no dud and he has picked up his play in practice over the past few weeks after he admittedly struggled at the beginning of the season.

Worst case scenario Brown comes in and picks up a few fouls and if that is the case then it's never too late to start training the next Evan Anderson.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow Zack on Twitter.


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