Wait, really? That's the double take that happens every week when the rankings come out and boring ol' Wisconsin has leapfrogged yet another member of the Best Freshman Class Everrrrrr. The Badgers bolted to a 12-0 start thanks to a surprisingly dominant offense -- yes, offense -- that was outscoring opponents by more than 12 points a game. But as everyone else adjusts to Wisconsin's new identity as a scoring power, the Badgers are looking at leading scorer Frank Kaminsky and doing a double take of their own.
Case in point: In a Nov. 27 game against West Virginia, up four points with 3:40 left, forward Sam Dekker got trapped up top and swung the ball, which found the seven-foot junior in the short corner. "Instead of just finessing the guy," Dekker remembers, "Frank just punched it. It shook the whole place. It was one of those plays where you're like, Hey that's the new Frank."
The old Frank was a very tall reserve who averaged nine minutes a game as a dead-eye three-point and free throw shooter. His first two seasons, it didn't much matter that he could be an offensive threat -- Kaminsky didn't quite fit with coach Bo Ryan's predilection for big men who could shoot and play the post. He frequently was in for a couple of plays, then got a quick hook. "Those games were the disheartening ones," Kaminsky says. "I can handle going in and missing 10 jump shots in a row, but that one defensive lapse you get pulled for was tough to swallow."
At the end of last season, though, with two post players graduating, the coaching staff let Kaminsky know the whole team was counting on him to step up. So Kaminsky spent the summer working out with an old AAU coach in Lisle, Ill.; back on campus, he focused on agility drills and improving his post footwork.
Now that dedication is paying off. Kaminsky got big props for knocking down six threes against North Dakota during a 43-point performance on Nov. 19 that broke the school's scoring record. But he's also scoring 27.7 percent of his points off post plays (through Dec. 19), according to Synergy. What's more, he's most efficient from eight feet, averaging 1.323 points per possession on post-ups and 1.235 ppp diving to the basket on pick-and-rolls.
While Kaminsky's broadened game has earned him more playing time (27.6 mpg), this season's hand-checking rules have Wisconsin taking advantage of his old specialties too. Ryan's slogging teams have always raced to get opponents into foul trouble -- a game plan that emphasizes getting into the bonus as quickly as possible. Yet with four of five starters this season averaging double digits, defenses have to stay close to every Badgers shooter. That has opened up the floor for Wisconsin to drive and get those reach-in calls refs are now emphasizing. It's good news for Kaminsky, who's still effective at the free throw line (75.7 percent), and when foul-plagued defenses sag, he's his old lethal self from beyond the arc (43 percent).
Add it all up, and although the Badgers average only three more possessions per game (64.6, versus 61.7 last season), the team's efficiency has spiked (15th-ranked in adjusted O this season, 108th last year) now that they're hitting more threes and converting and-1's. In that sense, Wisconsin is taking its cue from that new guy in the paint. As marquee teams falter, the Badgers are piling on the points the easiest ways they can. Or as Kaminsky says, "If I see an opportunity, I'm going to take it now."