The metrics are astounding.
The statistics – both basic and advanced – tell us the Wisconsin Badgers (22-2, 10-1 Big Ten) have the most efficient offense college basketball has ever seen. Let’s begin with a few of the basics:
- Second in the nation in Assist Turnover Ratio (1.69)
- Fewest fouls in nation (316 fouls through 24 games, 13.2 per game)
- Fewest turnovers in the nation (181 for a mere 7.5 per game)
- Tenth in nation in Free Throw Percentage (76%)
Basketball is best thought of as a game of avoiding mistakes rather than finding successes and the Badgers avoid mistakes (turnovers, fouls) better than any team in the country.
And those statistics only begin to tell story of how efficient Bo Ryan’s club really is. A deeper look into the numbers reveals more:
- At 124.6, the Badgers have the highest adjusted offensive efficiency rating since kenpom.com began collecting such data.
- Wisconsin’s entire starting five ranks in the Big Ten’s top 10 in individual offensive rating (per kenpom.com)
But metrics and numbers tell you the results and not the methods. How does Wisconsin operate so effectively? What structure do the Badgers follow to play such mistake-free basketball?
The answer: The Swing Offense.
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Ryan has been a head basketball coach since 1984 and has amassed 726 wins, the 37th most of all time. Ryan also won the Division III national title four times while coaching Wisconsin-Platteville in the 1990s. And most of those wins came while running his Swing offense.
The Swing is a four-out patterned offense with continuity. All five players are interchangeable, and spacing, screening, cutting and accurate passing are vital. All five players have opportunities to post up inside, and the Badgers often invert their offense and post guards. The offense is deliberate (Wisconsin ranks 333rd out of 351 in the nation in adjusted tempo), often with multiple passes and places value on each possession with high percentage inside shots, or free-throws. Unlike some of the recent, newer offenses that feature dribble penetration as their engine of point generation, the Swing offense is truly a “team-offense” that places a premium on good passing, screening and cutting.
The Swing offense blends elements from the UCLA offense, the flex offense, and the triangle offense. But the Swing is not magic, the Badgers limit turnovers because of fundamentals. When Wisconsin players receive the ball on the perimeter, they get in triple-threat position, and look into the post or take the ball to the action the Swing creates. Wisconsin players rarely waste dribbles. They do not take off without a plan. Deliberate? Yes, but very effective.
The Swing begins as a four-out/one-in set. The two top players occupy the slots and set up just wider than the lane lines on the perimeter. The two wings are wide and positioned at or above what is known as the “motion line.” Ryan wants his players above this line so they have two avenues of attack from the wing.
On its most basic level, the Wisconsin offense is designed to spread the floor and get the ball inside for easy baskets.
In the Swing, there is always a ballside triangle. Wisconsin maintains great spacing around the perimeter and they all can shoot with range. This gives the post, most often the skilled senior Frank Kaminsky, space to be one-on-one inside.
Below you see the ballside triangle and the four-out set. Option number one is for the ball to go inside to Kaminsky. The excellent spacing affords him room to operate.
Wisconsin has a roster of interchangeable players and often guards fill the block. The post is not reserved for Kaminsky alone.
There are rules and corresponding actions in the Swing that are triggered by passes. For example, when the ball is passed from the slot to the wing, it triggers an exchange of the two weakside players. This action occupies help defenders, giving Kaminsky or whomever is in the post a one-on-one matchup down low.
Another defining characteristic of the swing is the “up-screen” with a UCLA cut. If the ball cannot be entered from the wing to the post, the post sets an “up-screen” and the player in the slot runs a UCLA cut.
Ryan teaches his players to take the “path of least resistance” when running the cut. If the defender is between the cutter and the ball, the cutter will run off the weakside of the screen. If the defender did not move to the ballside of the cutter, then the cutter runs off the ballside of the screen.
This is where the Badgers begin to invert their offense – bigs can play outside and guards can post. After the player in the post up-screens, he steps out to the perimeter. And it is here that the seven-foot Kaminsky becomes a nightmare. He has the shooting and ball handling ability to attack from the slot.
As the ball moves around the perimeter, more passes trigger more rules. For example, in the basic Swing when the ball is passed from the wing to the slot, it triggers a weakside flare screen.
The flare screen gives the offense two available outlets for ball reversal.
Next, a slot-to-slot pass is made and that triggers another defining characteristic of the Swing – the flex cut. On the slot-to-slot pass, the player in the post steps out to backscreen for the weak side wing, who flex cuts along the baseline to the ballside block. The screener then flashes to the ball (‘Flex & Flash’).
Now you begin to see the rules create the continuity of actions that Wisconsin’s Swing is knowm for. If the ball is fully reversed to the wing, it would trigger the weakside exchange. If it did not go inside, it would then trigger the UCLA cut off the up-screen. And if it went back to the slot, the flex cut is triggered.
In the diagram below you see the full ball reversal which triggers the weakside exchange.
A look at the Badgers swinging the ball around the perimeter shows how many actions Ryan’s rules can create. Below, Wisconsin begins the possession with Sam Dekker in the post and Kaminsky in the weakside slot. Again, the Badgers are essentially positionless in the Swing.
The trip starts with the slot-to-wing pass that, by rule, triggers the weakside exchange. The ball does not go inside to Dekker, so we see Bronson Koenig run the UCLA cut and Dekker separates from the screen to the perimeter.
When Dekker receives the pass from Nigel Hayes (wing-to-slot) another weakside exchange is triggered. There is a flex cut when the ball reverses and eventually Dekker comes open on a weakside exchange (the perimeter assist from the seven-footer Kaminsky). All of this action is generated by the rules the passes trigger.
In the three possessions below you will see all the elements of the Swing including UCLA cuts, flex cuts, weakside exchanges and flare screens.
Another automatic in Ryan’s offense is the post construct. Much like the perimeter passes, the entry pass to the post triggers specific actions.
When the ball goes inside, the Badgers “rip cut” a player to the backside block. This is a counter to the big-on-big double team that opponents often employ. They fill the two slots (circled in blue below) with shooters daring a defender to double down on the post. They also position a shooter in the weakside corner. If there is a double team and the corner player’s defender rotates to cover the backside block, the post looks middle and fans the ball to the weakside corner.
This construction is an automatic when the ball goes inside to the block. Notice below how Kaminsky is surveying the middle and ready to pass out of the post if the double team comes.
Those are the basics of the Swing, but this veteran team hardly sticks to the basics. Ryan has modernized the Swing and added entries to the offense that give it a “new school” flavor.
Below, Wisconsin uses a “Horns” entry into the Swing. From “Horns” the Badgers construct the four-out look and are set up for a flex cut. However, the ball comes back to the strong side. When the ball is passed from the slot to Dekker on the wing, by rule, the weakside exchange is triggered.
Josh Gasser then “up-screens” for the UCLA cutter. Gasser’s man helps on the cutter too long and he separates from the screen for a three.
Ryan also adds some entries to maximize the talents of the multidimensional Kaminsky. Often, Kaminsky fills a perimeter slot position and the Badgers use him as a high screener. He rarely rolls into the post, preferring to pick-and-pop with the guard. The pick-and-pop keeps Wisconsin in the four-out formation, and from there they can run the Swing and follow its rules.
If Kaminsky is in the post and the Badgers use the high ball screen, they will run and “roll and replace” into the Swing. The screener rolls into the post and Kaminsky fills by sprinting to the perimeter spot to create the four-out look.
Below, Kaminsky and the Badgers execute these two actions against Jahlil Okafor and Duke.
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Wisconsin has a comfortable three game cushion over Maryland in the Big Ten standings. They are battling the likes of Kentucky, Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Ryan and his crew are seeking a return trip to the Final Four, after finishing last season 30-8 and coming within one point and an Aaron Harrison three-point shot of advancing past Kentucky into the title game. The Badgers have returned more than 80% of the scoring and rebounding from that team, and are on a quest to finish the championship journey.
During much of Big Ten play, the Badgers have been without starting senior point guard Traevon Jackson due to a foot injury. Jackson is an experienced guard that can create his own shot outside of the Swing, and the Badgers often rely on his skills late in the shot clock. Jackson’s return is imminent but, surprisingly, the Wisconsin offense has become even more efficient without him. Koenig has filled in for Jackson, and the Badgers have increased their reliance on the Swing. And this year’s version of their Swing offense is the best one yet.
It is said that “plays don’t win championships, players do.” But the fundamental, cerebral, skilled and disciplined players running the Swing have created a hyper-efficient offense that is on the brink of claiming a title.
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