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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

ANALYSIS: Wisconsin’s unique offense fuels success

Video by Dean Bibens
Photo by Wire Stock Photo
Marquette’s Matt Heldt guards the paint against a potential entry pass from Wisconsin’s Charles Thomas, IV.

When Bo Ryan took over the basketball program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001, he instituted a tactic known as the swing offense. Gradually, it became synonymous with Wisconsin basketball.


What is the swing offense?

Ryan is credited not only for popularizing the swing offense, but developing it himself.

The swing is a continuous sequence of off-ball screens and ball movement that attempts to break down a defense. It gets its name when the ball will be “swung,” or passed, from one side of the court to the other on any given possession.



Fan view

Along with Ryan’s offense comes a mindset: Do not settle for a good shot. Work for a great shot.

This often leads to the Badgers passing up decent looks early in the possession in an attempt to get a wide open basket as the shot clock winds down.

Some fans view the slower pace of play as boring, but basketball purists love the swing’s patience and fundamental execution.

The patience involved in Ryan’s offense has proven effective in frustrating defenses. For all 14 years under Ryan, his teams have converted more free throws than his opponents have attempted.



Adapting philosophy

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the swing offense is that it allows players that would otherwise be overmatched athletically to thrive. In recent years, two-star recruit Trevon Jackson and walk-on Zak Showalter have played major roles on succssful Badgers teams despite their relatively inathletic build.

On the other side of the coin, when a team has an abundance of talent, it’s best to abandon the swing at times. When Wisconsin’s roster featured NBA-level talent such as Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, Ryan increased the freedom for these types of players to simply make plays rather than continuing the sequence of the swing.



Gard takes over

An abrupt retirement mid-way through the 2015-’16 season closed Ryan’s storied career and raised questions about how new coach Greg Gard would change the system. Gard, Ryan’s longtime assistant dating back to his days at Platteville, continues to base Wisconsin’s offense on Ryan’s swing principles.



Transitioning to the NBA

Wisconsin has undoubtedly been more successful than Marquette recently, but Marquette still claims the advantage when it comes to producing talent at the next level. Marquette alumni boast 186 total seasons of NBA experience, compared to just 103 for the Badgers. In fact, Marquette alum Dwyane Wade has amassed significantly more NBA all star appearances (14) individually than every Wisconsin alumnus combined (3).

Although the Wisconsin system produces wins, it does not bear much resemblance to the NBA, where a 24-second shot clock favors quick movers and one-on-one shot creators.

The high-tempo, run-and gun-offenses that Marquette produces have been much more effective in producing talent at the next level.

The bottom line

Both schools have found success through different facets of achievement as well as varying styles of play. The stylistic disparity only serves to highlight the biggest in-state rivalry of Wisconsin college basketball.

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