In the spring of 2010, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan delivered a blunt message to forward Jon Leuer: The rising senior would have to lead the 2010-11 team. With Leuer gone — he was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA draft in June — the baton has been passed to senior guard Jordan Taylor. A second-team All-American who last season led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.83 (161 assists, 42 turnovers), finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (18.1 ppg) and was on the league’s all-defensive team, Taylor will be the most indispensable player on the UW roster this season.
“It is his team,” Purdue coach Matt Painter says of Taylor, who has 51 starts and 100 games played for UW. “Bo’s lead guard — whether it is Kammron Taylor or Trevon Hughes or Devin Harris — he always seems to have that key guy that understands you do not turn the ball over and get (the team) a good shot every time.”
Leuer and Taylor helped UW finish third in the Big Ten — UW was picked as low as seventh — and reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. Can Taylor lead UW to greater heights this season? Given the loss of three senior forwards, that appears to be a daunting task. However, there is no doubt that Ryan’s 11th UW team will be Taylor’s to lead.
Key Badgers Stat: 171
The three forwards who must be replaced — Keaton Nankivil, Jon Leuer and Tim Jarmusz — combined to start 171 games over the last two seasons.
The departure of Leuer and Keaton Nankivil means the only proven playmaker is junior Mike Bruesewitz, who can make the Energizer bunny appear lazy. Bruesewitz began to blossom last season and averaged 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games — despite playing on a painful right knee he sprained in the Big Ten Tournament. Bruesewitz has always provided instant energy on both ends of the court, but last season he became a more consistent scoring option by improving his shooting to .471 from .333 as a freshman.
Bruesewitz can’t carry the load alone, however. Junior Jared Berggren and perhaps redshirt freshman Evan Anderson will have to provide low-post scoring and physical play, two traits the Badgers lacked last season.
Berggren, like most of UW’s big men, is comfortable shooting from the 3-point line. However, he is equally at ease playing with his back to the basket and has the best post moves on the team. He must, however, stay out of foul trouble. Last season Berggren averaged one foul every 5.4 minutes.
Anderson displayed a nice mid-range jumper during practice last season. His post moves need work, but he can punish foes with his physical play.
“One thing coach looks for is … we’ve been a little too reliant on jump shots,” Berggren says. “He is always looking for a post presence.”
Senior Rob Wilson, junior Ryan Evans and sophomore Duje Dukan are wild cards. Wilson continued to struggle defensively last season and saw his playing time dip; Evans struggles because he too often tries to force plays on offense; Dukan, a prolific scorer in high school, wasn’t physically ready to compete as a freshman.
Taylor and sophomores Josh Gasser and Ben Brust should give the staff the option of using a three-guard lineup if necessary.
Taylor has improved dramatically since his freshman season and should be one of the top guards in the country. Gasser is a skilled all-around player who started 30 games as a freshman and recorded the first triple-double in program history (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) at Northwestern. His only weakness is 3-point shooting (.302).
Brust, who worked on the scout team as a freshman, could provide another scoring option. He has deep range and is tremendous coming off screens and shooting or attacking the basket.
No one was pleased with the forgettable performance in the 61–54 loss to Butler in the Sweet 16. UW had the potential to reach the Final Four for the first time ever under Ryan. For some fans, that loss overshadowed a solid regular-season run, which included handing then-No. 1 Ohio State its first loss. UW can contend for the league title and win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament, but several things need to happen: Taylor must stay healthy; Berggren and Anderson must give UW production on the interior; Bruesewitz must continue his rise; and the Badgers must get some production from an unexpected source.
Big Ten Prediction: 2nd
NCAA Tournament Prediction: Sweet 16