The new-look UW-Green Bay men’s basketball team is playing at a faster pace than almost every program in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy’s popular statistical website, and you’d think that would please coach Linc Darner to no end.
Except that Darner had no idea, which explains the long pause at the other end of the phone line when the topic was broached late last week.
“I’ve never even looked at it, to be honest with you,” Darner said of kenpom.com before another pause. “Who’s No. 1?”
For the record, The Citadel leads the 351 teams at the NCAA Division I level in Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo category. Coming in at No. 2 are the Phoenix (6-4), who will meet the University of Wisconsin (7-5) tonight at the Kohl Center.
UWGB’s average possession lasts 13.6 seconds. The Darner era didn’t get off to a great start — the Phoenix lost their first three games by scores of 93-89 (Stanford), 103-90 (East Tennessee State) and 107-77 (Georgia Tech) — but they’ve bounced back to win six of their past seven games and are averaging 85.2 points per game.
“A lot different look,” said Badgers assistant coach Lamont Paris, who handled the scouting report on UWGB, “than what we’ve been used to with them.”
Indeed, these aren’t your Dick Bennett Phoenix.
“There are guys here that have been fans here for 30 or 35 years and have been used to one style at Green Bay,” said Darner, who was hired after Brian Wardle left the Phoenix for Bradley following last season. “I think we’re playing a very exciting style right now. I think it’s a fun style for people to watch. I’ve had a lot of people make comments on how exciting it is to come to games at Green Bay: ‘Boy, it’s really exciting to watch how fast you get up and down the court.’ ”
Darner is quick to clear up misconceptions, like when people assume he must have a single-digit shot clock instilled in his players’ brains.
“We want to push it at a high pace and get the best shot we possibly can, whether it’s in one pass or 10 passes,” he said. “And also understand the game, too. If the other team goes on a 6-0 or 8-0 run, we don’t want to come down and just fire up a shot. We’ve got to get a good shot. We want to play at the basket.”
The first place Darner’s eyes go on the stat sheet after games is the turnover category. Again, Darner wanted to clear up any false impressions.
“I think there’s also a misconception that when you play fast you’re going to turn the ball over more,” Darner said. “The stat that would be more intriguing to me is where we stack in the nation in turnovers per possession. Because if you don’t turn it over, you get a chance to shoot it. I think we’ve done a fairly good job of that. If we get more turnovers, we force more turnovers, that gives us more opportunities to shoot, which gives us more opportunities to score.”
In fact, Darner was told, the kenpom.com stats show his team commits a turnover on 14.9 percent of its possessions (21st nationally) and forces a turnover on 21.0 percent of the opponents’ possessions (58th nationally). In other words, the Phoenix are doing an excellent job in turnover margin.
UWGB produces 11.3 steals per game, which ranks among the leaders in the country. But most of those miscues are caused in the frontcourt, where the Phoenix are good at wreaking havoc with their hands in passing lanes.
UWGB presses full court, but it’s more of a nuisance than anything else at this point. Eventually, once Darner has his complete system in place, the Phoenix will try to make opponents’ lives miserable with effective traps in the backcourt.
The good news for Darner when he arrived last spring was he had two key building blocks in place: senior guard Carrington Love and senior forward Jordan Fouse, a Racine native.
“I knew they had two very good players coming back,” Darner said. “The rest of the guys who had returned didn’t really play much. People probably would say, ‘Boy I didn’t know he could do that.’
“But I think anybody can play the way we play. Again, it’s a misconception that you’ve just got to be able to run and jump and that’s it. No, we want good basketball players to fit our system. We want guys that can handle the ball, pass the ball and shoot the ball and also be guys that want to play the way we want to play defensively. I think our guys have done a good job adapting.”