January 5, 2010

Rebounding key to Badger success

MADISON - Keaton Nankivil has been in the Wisconsin basketball program for over two years and has been playing the sport basically his entire life.

So when he starts talking about rebounding, and the mindset it takes to reel in the boards, his comments become somewhat revealing.

"I'm still trying to figure it out," Nankivil, whose 14-rebound game at Penn State established a new career-high, said. "One thing coach is always on me about is two hands and physicality. It's not always about how high you can jump or how athletic you are.

"It's about position and timing and all that kind of stuff."

For a Wisconsin team that is better than most on the defensive side of the ball one would imagine that rebounding comes as a natural art. By playing good defense and getting a body on your man, the ball just seemingly falls into place.

But, like most things basketball, there is plenty more that goes into it.

"Coach Bo Ryan says it's not the size of the dog it's the fight in him," UW freshman Ryan Evans, who chips in 5.2 points and 3.4 rebounds on average, said. "You got to be real aggressive and meaner than the opponent."

Sometimes, though, it is simply easier said than done.

As the season reaches the midway point Wednesday evening in East Lansing, Wisconsin holds a 34-29 rebounding average against opponents on average. Through those 14 games, UW has come out on the winning side of the rebound margin 11 times.

Luckily during the three times it didn't happen that way, UW only wound up on the losing side of the game once (Gonzaga). The other two (Marquette and Penn State) saw the Badgers overcome the deficit and reel off impressive wins.

Now, as the meat of the Big Ten schedule glares the Badgers in the eye like a predator hunting its prey, UW knows full well what it will take to get after the boards and be successful.

"Just grit," UW sophomore Rob Wilson said. "It's hunger. Whoever wants it the most. Coach is always talking about it being a war out there. Every possession is a war. Whoever wants to come out with the ball is going to get it."

There are a couple of reasons the Badgers have had success on the rebounding front so far this season.

One, the team gets after the boards off an offensive miss in an effective manner and gets a second shot to score. Two, and maybe more influential, the Badger guards have had great success chipping in.

If you take a look at Trevon Hughes', Jason Bohannon's, Jordan Taylor's and Wilson's numbers on the glass (13.1 rpg) and compare them with the four leading frontcourt players on the Badger roster (Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz, Evans and Nankivil) you will see that the bigs only out rebound the guards by a little more than four per game.

"It's huge," Nankivil said of the way UW's guards rebound. "Because as a big you get put up against the teams other great rebounder. A lot of times your job is just to keep a body on him and not let him get the ball. What they are really able to do is rebound in all the space and all the gaps that are left from that.

"Especially Jordan and 'Pop,' they eat up a lot of space and J-Bo's been doing a great job of coming in and tracking down the ball in space."

When UW takes the court at the Breslin Center Wednesday they will be going against a Spartans squad that averages seven more rebounds than UW does. On the offensive side of the glass, MSU collects 14.2 boards per game. Meanwhile, UW reels in just under 10.

That will likely be one of the key points in the game. Should the Badgers be able to collect offensive boards, something that has been improving over recent games, UW will likely be in the game through the very end.

In short, not many things on the basketball court could lead to more momentum for the aggressor while being more deflating for the opponent than second chance points and offensive rebounds.

It will simply be fun to watch.

"Offensive boards are devastating," Nankivil said. "Every team I've ever been on, when you play the five-on-five games in practice, an offensive board is either worth the most points in a game or can end the game.

"It's one of those things that coaches really stress."

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