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Another year, another top-25 preseason ranking for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team. Whether fair or not, a lot of extra attention is being heaped on this squad because of one person: preseason All-American point guard Jordan Taylor. Wisconsin receives lots of criticism for the slow pace of their offense, but they were consistently the most efficient offense in the country last season, and that shouldn’t change this year. Taylor’s ability to limit turnovers is the key that drives the team. Outside of the quarterback in football, no position in any sport is as instinct-driven as a point guard, and that is where Taylor excels. His court vision and his basketball IQ alone are enough for success, and his ability to get his teammates involved will be the make-or-break for the Badgers.

Wisconsin will be tasked with replacing senior big men Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, two players who combined for nearly 12 rebounds and 2 blocks per game last season. There are a few in-house options to go along with two incoming freshmen that could fill the void. Wisconsin’s unique swing offense requires typical big men to occasionally step out on the perimeter and work with the passing game to create mismatches all over the court. They excelled against smaller, quicker lineups by slowing down the game, but were held up too often against teams with a strong low-post presence. Both Leuer and Nankivil had skill sets that allowed them to hit long-range jumpers, but when it came time to put a body in the paint, they lost a bit of physicality.

Coach Bo Ryan recruits players for his swing offense that can play all 5 spots on the court. Juniors Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans were two players forced to play at heights above their own and are part of a long history of fearless interior Badgers. How they can incorporate the remainder of their inside roster will be crucial for the team. Junior Jared Berggren and incoming freshmen Evan Anderson and Frank Kaminsky could all have a chance to be the muscle in the paint, and their success could determine how Wisconsin shows up against top ranked teams like North Carolina or Ohio State, two teams with dominant big men.

Working in tandem with Taylor will be sophomore guard Josh Gasser, who’s highlight last year was the Badgers’ first ever triple-double. Gasser handles the ball well but needs a more reliable shooting touch. A summer of work and another year in Coach Ryan’s system could be the icing on the cake for Gasser’s development as a scorer. Rob Wilson, the only other senior on the team, played a minimal role as a guard forward combo last year and will have to step up to fill the void of graduated Tim Jarmusz. Jarmusz played the same position but caused much frustration for Badger fans with his rapid hot and cold shooting. Wilson’s minutes dropped off as the season went on, typically Ryan’s way of getting you to improve your defensive game.

Defense as a whole is a trademark for Wisconsin basketball. The “absolute zero” of college basketball, the Badgers will defensively grind any team to a halt. Plenty of other teams simply get frustrated at Wisconsin’s slower, methodical approach to the game and end up making too many mistakes and too many turnovers. While Wisconsin might not win too many high scoring battles, they typically don’t have to. This year could be a slight change of the norm as the Badgers have a speedy, athletic front court, but look for the defense to once again define this team.

Will Jordan Taylor be enough of an all-around threat to carry this team to a deep tournament run? The worst the Badgers have done under Bo Ryan is 4th in the Big Ten, but that hasn’t always translated to much success in March. If Wisconsin can build a solid team chemistry, it could be a big year.


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  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    I’m assuming the suprisingly high regard for this year’s Badger squad is based largely on the assumption that Bo knows basketball because, other than Taylor, it’s not readily apparent where the production is going to come from. Even Ryan acknowledges that Taylor needs help. I believe the keys to this season are going to be the maturation of Berggren, Evans and, especially Wilson. At least one of those guys is going to have to develop into a second scoring option, though I hear that Ben Brust has been filling it up in practice.

  • Brian

    True, I didn’t cover a lot of the youth from this team. Brust is one guy who could come with a hot shooting hand, but there are a lot of players who must become reliable options. How well other players develop, just in terms of plain basketball IQ, could reflect Taylor’s full potential as a leader. He’ll have a lot of freedom from Bo Ryan to make things happen.

  • http://www.retaggr.com/page/crichar3 Chris

    Every season it’s pretty much the same story: How can UW hope to contend in the Big(12)Ten with the talent they have? And each year they are not only competitive, but end up in the tournament. I have the same questions everyone has about their lineup, but I have no questions about their program and their system. It will be interesting to see how it all fits together this season because it sure isn’t clear right now.

  • Brian

    You are definitely correct Chris. In a number of past years, some of the smaller roles on the lineup felt set in stone going into the season. The Wisconsin “status quo” has always lead to some form of success.

    This year doesn’t seem as strong. But I believe we might be surprised with the development of players like Mike Bruesewitz. There is a lot of youth on this team, and they’ll all have to click together very quickly.