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Monday, January 11, 2010

Wanted: Power Forward

Despite Jon Leuer's broken wrist, at least Wisconsin beat Purdue, proving that national respect for the Badgers is warranted. But what if Leuer had gotten injured in the Michigan State game? People would have been jumping out of windows with that news. Leuer, the team's leading rebounder, was just about the only big body who showed up against the Spartans last week.

Even before Leuer got hurt, the power forward/center position was in need of improvement. One remedy for the unsightly rebounding situation in the Michigan State loss could have been a motivated Keaton Nankivil. Laying blame at any one player's feet is usually irresponsible, but Nankivil, one of my favorites, simply has to be called out. Wisconsin's other junior big man suffered through his worst performance of the year last against the Spartans and it didn't get any better against the Boilermakers beyond his highlight reel dunk sequence.

Wisconsin cannot survive the loss of Leuer without improvement from Nankivil. In East Lansing, Nankivil was routinely beaten for rebounds and got caught in defensive positions where he would recover just in time to bump into a Michigan State player. He didn't alter any shots or establish position; he would just slide in late to pick up cheap fouls that get called every time. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was trying to pick up fouls. As a result, Nankivil picked up three fouls, two points and one rebound in 15 minutes of play.

I was hoping a more dialed-in Nankivil would channel his performance from last year's Purdue game, but there he was on Saturday, playing even fewer minutes (10) after picking up two quick fouls five minutes into the game. At least one came when going after an offensive rebound, which is interesting if you look at Nankivil's stats ...

Through 16 games, Nankivil is averaging a little over 22 min/g. With the small samples sizes we have, there seems to be a small correlation between offensive rebounding and fouls committed:


























Here's two quick thoughts: One, Nankivil may come out too aggressive sometimes (imagine that!) in a desire to hit the offensive glass and needlessly picks up extra fouls, which lands him on the bench. Two, maybe by going after more offensive rebounds (and often succeeding), perhaps Keaton puts himself at a disadvantage when the opponent gets the defensive rebound and pushes the ball up court, translating into more times where he is in a poor position defensively ... playing "catch up" if you will.

Regardless of my thinly supported hypotheses, you want your best players on the court. So Nankivil must play smarter so he can get into a rhythm. He has arguably the sweetest stroke out of anyone on the team. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the back-to-the-basket game that Leuer does.

That is why the stage belongs to Jared Berggren. The redshirt frosh has not really experienced Big Ten basketball yet, but he needs to realize some of his potential in a hurry. If Berggren is ready to go, his minutes will skyrocket because he has the potential to be Wisconsin's best remaining weapon in the post. An inside presence will have to emerge or else opponents will be draping themselves all over the Badger guards.

Along with Berggren, two other young guys must step up. Like Nankivil, Ryan Evans needs to cut down on his fouls, but can bring a new dimension to the floor. Freshman Mike Bruesewitz needs to maintain the rebounding prowess he has flashed in limited minutes over a longer period of time.

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