Big Ten basketball previews: Wisconsin Badgers

The plan was to have all of these done before the season started, but I'm a couple games too late with the Wisconsin preview. Oh well, better late than never.

All previous Big Ten previews

Blog Representation

Bucky's Fifth Quarter

Last season

Another year, another Bo Ryan coached team overachieving. Picked to finish as low as eighth in the Big Ten, Wisconsin immediately put the nation on notice after consecutive wins over Maryland and Duke. Heading into Big Ten play, the Badgers were a solid 10-2, and despite losing star forward Jon Leuer for a month due to injury, they still contended for the conference title, but came up one game short, and were upset in the first round of the Big Ten tournament by Illinois. Still, their 13-5 conference record was quite impressive, as it was Bo Ryan's 9th consecutive season finishing 4th or better in the Big Ten, an absolutely incredible streak.

Of course, the one thing Bo Ryan hasn't been able to do with any consistency is go deep into the NCAA tournament, and that trend continued last year, as the Badgers were upset by Cornell in the 2nd round after narrowly escaping Wofford in round one. The continued NCAA frustration left Wisconsin fans demanding more from Ryan, and while it must be frustrating not to be able to replicate their Big Ten success at the national level, Badger fans should be very grateful to have Ryan, and if for some reason he ever leaves, I might fly to Wisconsin and beg him to come to Northwestern. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Players not returning

Wisconsin loses their top two guards: Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. Hughes averaged 15 points per game, shot nearly 40% from three, and was always the go-to guy down the stretch, usually coming through when needed. Bohannon began his career as a 3-point specialist, but he eventually developed until a solid all-around guard; he never took bad shots and made smart decisions with the ball. The Badgers will struggle to replace such a strong duo.

Backcourt

Bo Ryan does return one significant contributor in junior Jordan Taylor, who averaged 10 points per game and led the Badgers with 3.6 assists per game while turning it over only about once per game. He began the season as a 6th man, providing instant offense off the bench, but moved into the starting lineup after Leuer got hurt and earned starters minutes from then on. Taylor figures to be a bigger part of the offense this season, and if he can improve a bit on his 39% field goal shooting, he could be one of the better guards in the Big Ten.

The other starter looks like it will be freshman Josh Gasser, who has made an immediate impact in Wisconsin's first two games, averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, albeit against terrible competition. Sophomore Ryan Evans and junior Rob Wilson will be role players as they were last season, and freshman Ben Brust (whom Northwestern heavilty recruited) should get some run as well. Seniors Brett Valentyn and Wquinton Smith round out the guard rotation

Frontcourt

The frontcourt is the strength of this team, led by senior Jon Leuer, a potential Big Ten player of the year candidate. He led the Badgers in scoring and rebounding last season, shooting 55% on two and 39% on threes, and he's off to a great start this year, averaging 23 points a game so far. He can score both inside and out and will be a match-up nightmare. He's joined in the starting lineup by senior Keaton Nankivil, an underrated big man who can bang inside and occasionally step out and hit the three.

The third starter will likely be 6'7 wing Tim Jarmusz. It's unclear to me what Jarmusz does well, he shoots only about 30% from the field despite very rarely shooting, and isn't a great rebounder or passer. He's solid fundamentally and must be a strong defender, although I've never really seen him shut down any opposing players. So I don't get why he plays 20 minutes a night, but keep in mind that me criticizing Bo Ryan's coaching is a bit like Matt Millen criticizing anyone's personnel decisions (and man is it hilarious to listen to him try to evaluate the NFL potential of college players on ESPN's broadcasts. Have another wide receiver you hack).

Coming off the bench, Wisconsin has two bangers in sophomores Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesiwitz, and freshman wing Duje Dukan, a Croatian who somehow wasn't recruited by Bill Carmody. That's now two freshmen Croats in the Big Ten (joining Purdue's Sandi Marcius) and neither play for Northwestern. Bizarre. Freshman big Evan Anderson will redshirt: I only mention him because according to Wisconsin's website, he was nominated for the McDonald's All-America honors after a senior year where he averaged an impressive 10 points and 5 rebounds a game in Wisconsin high school basketball. I'm glad I'm not the poor bastard who has to sift through thousands and thousands of resumes to determine the McDonald's All-America team.

Expectations

Bo Ryan has been at Wisconsin 9 years, and all 9 times he has finished 4th or higher in the Big Ten, so it's reached the point where it shouldn't matter who Wisconsin lost from last year; as long as Bo Ryan is still the coach, I'm picking them to have a good season. It appears the coaches poll voters have figured this out, as despite a whole lot of question marks at the guard spot, they've ranked Wisconsin at 25th. However, the AP voters aren't as sharp, as they have the Badgers just outside the rankings at 27th. And don't think there isn't some talent here; Leuer is one of the better forwards in the country, and Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil could both have breakout seasons. If some of the inexperienced guards can step up and contribute immediately, Wisconsin could be right there with the Big Ten's elite. Still, the top of the conference is just too good to anticipate a conference title run.

SoP Prediction: 4th in the Big Ten, #4 to #7 seed in the NCAAs

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