One of the biggest question marks surrounding Green Bay’s 2020/2021 season is what the style of play might look like with a brand new coaching staff on board.
The Phoenix played at one of the fastest tempos in the entire country over the past five seasons under former head coach Linc Darner – who was fired in May – finishing 6th, 7th, 23rd, 13th, and 7th in the country in adjusted tempo over that span according to KenPom.com. Green Bay finished in the top ten in fastest average offensive possession length in each of Darner’s five seasons and had the shortest average possession length in the country in two of those five seasons, including an average offensive possession length of just 14.4 seconds last year which was the fastest in the country.
Darner’s “RP40” style of play was all about playing as fast as possible and getting as many possessions as possible. But what will this season look like under first year head coach Will Ryan? Will the Phoenix slow things down to the more traditional, deliberate pace of his father’s Wisconsin Badger teams? Or maybe play at the hybrid pace of his mentor Saul Phillips’ teams at North Dakota State and Ohio?
“The previous staff, coach Darner, he was more up-tempo, they pushed the pace,” Ryan said during a recent appearance on the Reach the Horizon Podcast. “Am I going to hold them back? No. We’ll look to push when we can. Will we score eighty, eighty-one points a game? Maybe, we’ll see how that goes.”
In his first season as a head coach, Ryan’s team at Wheeling (WV) averaged 76.2 points per game last season and finished right near the middle of the Division II ranks in tempo at almost 71 possessions per game. They scored 80 or more points in 8 of the team’s 27 games going 5-3 in those games. Wheeling was also 4-1 last season in games where they had less than 65 possessions in those contests.
“We’re going to value the basketball,” Ryan said. “We’re going to take really good, high percentage shots. Whether that’s early in the shot clock or later in the shot clock, so be it. Just as long as they’re high percentage. We’re going to pass the ball until we find that good shot.”
“Like I said it might be early in the possession, it might be later, somewhere in-between. That’s what we’re trying to harp on right now is just being patient and taking high percentage shots.”
Under Darner, Green Bay was a fairly efficient offense a season ago ranking 109th in offensive efficiency out of 350+ Division I teams according to KenPom despite playing at the 7th fastest tempo in the country. It was on the defensive end that the Phoenix struggled over the course of the past five seasons, especially last season when Green Bay finished 319th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.
The Phoenix average defensive possession length was nearly 18 seconds long last season which ranked 302nd in the country. That’s normally not a bad thing, but for a team that was attempting to speed opponents up hoping for run outs on fast breaks, it was a bad combination. Teams were able to get too many good looks and extend possessions too often by grabbing offensive rebounds leading to second chance opportunities.
This season, “the defensive end we’re going to lock in, set our jaw, and play tough nose man to man defense and try to create some offense with our defense,” Ryan said.
Another clue to Green Bay’s potential style of play going forward could be the historic performances of Saul Phillips’ teams at North Dakota State and Ohio. Ryan was an assistant with Phillips for 12 seasons making two NCAA Tournament appearances during that span including an impressive upset victory over Oklahoma in 2014.
Despite running a variation of Bo Ryan’s swing offense, in those 12 seasons Phillips’ teams finished in the top 125 of KenPom’s average tempo ten times. But they also followed a similar blueprint of playing efficient offense, not wasting possessions with turnovers, playing fundamental defense, and not allowing the opposition second chances with offensive rebounds.
It was an effective blueprint for Phillips and obviously for Will’s father Bo, from the Division III level all the way to multiple Final Four appearances at Wisconsin.
Now it’s Will’s turn to lead a program using his own variation of that blueprint and style of play.
“No matter how good or bad [Bo’s] teams were in all the different stops that he had, fundamentals was huge,” Will Ryan said on the podcast. “Sharing the basketball, just being sound, locking in and playing tough defense, boxing out. All those things, you don’t have to be a great player to be able to do those things, it doesn’t require a lot of talent. It is a talent, but it doesn’t require a ton of athleticism, length…jumping ability, to go box out, to dive on the floor, to take care of the basketball, to take good shots. We’re going to instill all that in our guys.”
“We’re going to stick to the basics, stick to the fundamentals, and hopefully have a good product to put on the court and one that fans can be proud of.”