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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Final Four: Mapping The Rosters

A classic championship game between Kansas and Memphis brought the 2007-08 season to a close in proper fashion last night. The Jayhawks' 75-68 win came in the seventh overtime game in NCAA championship game history. [box score]

When you look back at this tournament a few years from now, Wisconsin's exit will not appear as poor as it seemed at the time. When Davidson hung with the eventual national champion until the final shot, the whole Midwest Region got a boost. If you can't win, you hope the team that beats you was the best in the country. In UW's case, this was close enough. From one angle, you could make an argument--albeit a shaky one--that Wisconsin lost to the second-best team in the tournament this year.

In days leading up to the title game, I started thinking back to a recent New York Times piece on the composition of Wisconsin's roster (thanks to Jon Linder for pointing it out). The map got me thinking both about the direction UW's program is headed and also about what it takes to build a truly elite, NCAA Championship-level squad these days.

Wisconsin has concentrated traditionally on snagging the best players from the state and filling in needed pieces from its midwestern neighbors. Bo Ryan has placed a premium on finding players who will best fit his swing offense and embrace the team concept. It's easy to fill a roster with that kind of players when your legendary head coach has inspired half of the high school coaches in the state to run his system.

I have constructed some player origin maps to show how this type of roster-building strategy appears spatially. Almost every program is going to fill extra roster spots with walk-ons from around the state, so I concentrated on mapping the scholarship athletes. Though we have been able to cherry-pick some talent from Minnesota lately, the 2007-08 roster was still heavily local:

Now look at Monday night's title game match-up. See where Kansas and Memphis are pulling players from? All over. Compare these maps and apparent strategies with Wisconsin's more regional map:

Both school's rosters featured scholarship players from 10 different states this season. Kansas has natural ties to the heartland, but nearly every corner of the country is represented. Memphis' turf seems restricted only to anything east of the Mississippi River. These are two of the nation's premier programs which can basically pick and choose the recruits they want. Similarly, top-flight prospects desire to play for these schools, no matter where they grew up.

The question is, will Bo Ryan change his recruiting. Does he agree with the pessimists that decry a lack of athleticism on his team and feel the need to look outside Wisconsin's borders to find it? More likely is that (1)the recent classes of high school seniors in Wisconsin have been less talented than usual and (2)the Badgers continue to raise their profile nationally in the minds of prep hoop stars.

This fall, five new freshmen will join the Badgers, none of which will be from Wisconsin. The departing senior class this spring consists of four in-state contributors (3 scholarship, 1 walk-on). In just one year, Wisconsin has added three new states to it's recruiting footprint* to up the total to eight. As I mentioned before, this is probably more of a drastic blip than an official trend. If the team keeps winning 30 games a year, though, the opportunities to pick and choose become even greater and more frequent.

*This map assumes 2008 recruit Ryan Evans will occupy Kevin Gullikson's 2008-09 scholarship.

Round 5 (& 6) data
With all the Big Ten teams long-gone and no other 3-seeds left to compare to Wisconsin's run, there is nothing left to track but my pathetic bracket. When North Carolina and UCLA were both eliminated at the Final Four, the debacle was complete.

My picks: 37/63 (58.7%) Round 5 (& 6): 0-3

1 comment:

  1. This is a great point, and one of the interesting twists in Bo Ryan's legacy, such that it is. The Badgers were a good, possibly great, team this year; but largely ignored by the National media because the TEAM contains zero NBA prospects.

    The high schools in Wisconsin just simply do not put out world-class NBA talent. You could do a map like that for every team in the Big 10, and you'd probably find that the teams consistently at the top pull from the widest recruiting pools. One exception might be Illinois, which has a strong Chicago connection (though one could argue that Chicago is a different state from the rest of Illinois).

    So, having said that, to "lock in" the program, Bo really only needs to do one thing. Get ONE big-name, flashy all-everything twelve-star recruit and let him put up gaudy numbers in the swing system. If he can get ONE, he can have at least one every single year.

    Of course, there's always the argument that one player CAN'T put up gaudy numbers in the swing. And, one could also argue that the swing skills don't translate to the NBA style, and a player with NBA-aspirations would be wasting his time here.


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