basketball-men-d1 flag

Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | December 16, 2021

How Wisconsin's Johnny Davis became a breakout All-America candidate

Defending champ Baylor takes over No. 1 in college basketball Power 36 rankings

Perhaps the best way to describe the impact that Wisconsin sophomore guard Johnny Davis has had on the Badgers this season is to highlight the two games he has missed this season.

The first was when a heel injury prevented Davis from playing in Wisconsin's 63-58 home loss to Providence — a Friars team that has started 10-1, by the way — in which the Badgers posted season-lows in 3-point percentage (18.5 percent) and the percent of their made baskets that were assisted (25 percent, per kenpom.com). Wisconsin's offensive output of 0.88 points per possession was the team's second-lowest this season.

Then, on Wednesday, Davis missed Wisconsin's game against Nicholls State with what the team termed a non-COVID illness. The Badgers won, barely, in a 71-68 effort against a Colonels team that, as of Dec. 16, is ranked No. 209 on kenpom.com and No. 129 in the NET rankings, with four of its first seven wins coming against non-Division I opponents.

In short, Wisconsin needs Davis, a player with whom the team is 8-1 when he plays and 1-1 — nearly 0-2 — when he doesn't.

Here's what has made Davis a breakout star in men's college basketball this season.

The advanced stats are current through the games played on Dec. 15, 2021, and they're courtesy of kenpom.com and hoop-math.com.

DATA DEEP DIVE: Shot selections are becoming more uniform and that means fewer midrange 2s

Ebony Cox | USA TODAY Sports Images Wisconsin's Johnny Davis is averaging 4.1 3-point attempts per game.

His 3-point attempts have increased more than threefold but his efficiency has remained

The tempo of Wisconsin's offense annually ranks among the slowest nationally, dating back when Virginia coach Tony Bennett's father, Dick, coached in Madison, and it can be tempting to conflate the speed at which a team plays with a lack of efficiency, but we encourage you to resist that potential temptation.

Last decade, Wisconsin ranked in the top 100 nationally in 3-point attempt percentage six times, according to kenpom.com, and the Badgers did in both 2020 and 2021 under coach Greg Gard. So, the Badgers might be resistant to playing at the speed of a proverbial track meet, but they're not afraid to let it fly from deep.

As a sophomore, Davis has become indoctrinated in that philosophy, as he's attempting 4.1 3-pointers per game — the second-most on the team, behind only teammate Brad Davison's 7.4 per game. That's a notable increase from last season.

The freshman year version of Davis played 24.3 minutes per game off the bench and he attempted 1.2 3-pointers per game. Now a starter, Davis' minutes per game average has climbed to 33.3, yet his number of 3-point attempts per game has increased by a factor of roughly 3.5.

Even though Davis' 3-point attempts have increased — as has his overall usage, from 17.8 percent of Wisconsin's offensive possessions last season to 31.3 percent this season — his 3-point percentage hasn't suffered and he's actually become a more efficient player overall.

Davis' court awareness helps his efficiency. Houston often double-teamed Wisconsin upon its post entries during the Badgers' 65-63 win over the Cougars in the Maui Invitational. During this first-half possession, Davis received an entry pass on the right block (showing his versatility) and he was quickly double-teamed, so he kicked the ball out and Wisconsin swung the ball until it found the open player.

When Tyler Wahl was double-teamed on the left block later in the possession, Davis' defender, Taze Moore, rotated to cover Steven Crowl, who was open underneath the basket due to the double team.

ESPN Wisconsin's Johnny Davis against Houston.

That left Davis open on the right wing and he called for the ball. But, importantly, he also relocated closer to the right corner, where Houston's defenders would have to travel farther to defend a potential shot.

ESPN Wisconsin's Johnny Davis against Houston.

When Wahl pivoted out of the double team and fired a cross-court pass, Houston's defenders didn't even bother trying to close out on Davis, who was able to gather the pass and sink an easy catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.

A few possessions later, as part of Wisconsin's 13-0 run to start the game against Houston, Davis became a one-man disruptor in transition. Houston's Tramon Mark missed a jumper, which was rebounded by Davison. Wisconsin's Chucky Hepburn then jogged up the court with the ball.

Simultaneously, Davis had made his way back to the right corner, where he had nailed a 3-pointer moments earlier, and Houston lost him in transition. Count how many players you see in the screenshot below. The answer is nine and you can probably guess who is the missing, 10th player.

ESPN Wisconsin vs. Houston.

One 40-something-foot pass and one premature (but prescient) celebration from Davison later, Davis had hit another open 3-pointer in the right corner to put the Badgers ahead by 13 before the Cougars had even scored.

ESPN Wisconsin's Johnny Davis against Houston.

The table below shows Davis' production through the first nine games of his sophomore season compared to his freshman season. Offensive rating, labeled below at "ORTG," is courtesy of kenpom.com. For reference, the national average this season is 100.7.

season ppg ortg 2pA 2p% 3pA 3p% FTA FT%
2020-21 7.0 99.1 2.3 .453 1.2 .389 1.4 .727
2021-22 20.9 111.9 6.0 .495 4.1 .378 5.1 .826

LATEST RANKINGS: AP Top 25 poll | NET rankings | Andy Katz's Power 36

He's about four percentage points above average at the least-efficient shots

Here at NCAA.com, we recently took a statistical deep dive into the trends in shot selections in DI men's basketball and found that the percent of 2-point jumpers in the shot have declined by roughly 6.5 percentage points in the last decade. In the 2011-12 season, they represented roughly 33 percent of all shot attempts, but that percentage fell to roughly 26 percent in the 2019-20 season.

Despite his much-improved traditional and advanced statistics, Davis' shot distribution doesn't necessarily fall in line with the winds of change in the sport. Per hoop-math.com, more than 43 percent of his attempts are 2-point jumpers.

But here's the good news for the Badgers and the Wisconsin faithful: Davis is making almost 40 percent of them, which is four percentage points higher than the national average in previous seasons, per hoop-math.com.

When you're a point guard who shoots 63 percent at the rim and almost 38 percent from behind the arc, you'll take 40-percent shooting on 2-point jumpers, especially with a player who gets to the free throw line as often as Davis does (five attempts per game).

On Wisconsin's first basket of the game against then-No. 12 Houston, Davis initiated the offense on the possession, gave the ball up to Davison, then curled through Houston's defense to the left corner, where he got the ball back on the wing.

Houston's defense was keyed in on Davis, with the defenders who were originally guarding Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl each helping off their man to prevent a drive to the lane.

ESPN Wisconsin's Johnny Davis against Houston.

With the extra defenders ready to step in if he made it to the rim or the middle of the floor, Davis was able to shed defender Taze Moore enough to pull up for a midrange jumper, which he swished.

Click on the video below to watch the sequence.

Here's what happens when you combine court awareness and athleticism

We've already touched on Davis' court awareness, especially as an off-ball guard. Sure, he has a team-high 19-percent assist rate, per kenpom.com, which means he assists on almost one out of every five made baskets when he's on the floor, but Davis can also be dangerous when he doesn't have the ball.

During Wisconsin's furious second-half comeback against Indiana — the Badgers trailed by 17 at halftime and won by five — Crowl had the ball on left block extended and he surveyed the floor. Davis was on the opposite wing, near his twin brother Jordan, and as Jordan Davis went to the top of the key, Johnny Davis made a hard cut to the lane, where Crowl hit him in stride, setting Davis up for a monster dunk over Indiana's Race Thompson.

And that wasn't even the first time in the game that Davis dunked on one of Indiana's frontcourt starters, as he had already beaten Miller Kopp off the dribble, then he slammed one down over Trayce Jackson-Davis in the first half.

At 6-5, Davis has the best assist rate on the team and the second-best 3-point percentage. And despite having the 37th-highest usage rate in the country, per kenpom.com, he takes great care of the ball, turning the ball just under 11 percent of the time, which gives him a dangerous blend of play-making, court awareness and athleticism that adds a critical dynamism to a Wisconsin offense that through Dec. 15 ranks 12th in Big Ten play in adjusted offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and offensive rebounding percentage.

19 oldest rivalries in college football

These are the 19 oldest rivalries in college football across FCS and FBS, led by the Yale-Princeton showdown that began in 1873.
READ MORE

These are the biggest moments from Week 2 of the college wrestling season

Let’s break down some of the key storylines from the weekend and how and how these results impact upcoming duals and rankings. 
READ MORE

Wisconsin takes down Minnesota women's hockey with big Game 2 win

Four different skaters found the back of the net, and No. 3 Wisconsin women’s hockey knocked off No. 1 Minnesota with a 4-1 win in a pivotal series finale on Saturday.
READ MORE

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from NCAA.com and our partners