This preview and more on Wisconsin and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 22 Wisconsin Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-12 (12-6 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Bo Ryan (291-113 at Wisconsin)
Big Ten projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Sam Dekker was in a foul mood after his freshman season at Wisconsin ended with a shorter-than-expected stay in the postseason. UW has advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of Bo Ryan’s 12 seasons leading the program, but 2012-13 marked only the second time during that span that the Badgers failed to win a game once they got there.
Dekker called a 57–46 loss to Ole Miss a “bulletin-board game” for the returning Badgers entering the offseason. But his spirits picked up considerably during the summer when he’d walk into the Kohl Center and see several of his teammates — even the newcomers — already hard at work. “We just have a really, really hard-working bunch that’s not going to back down from much at all,” Dekker says.
UW’s roster includes six freshmen and two returning players who missed last season due to injuries. To help get the Badgers up to speed as quickly as possible, Ryan scheduled a series of five exhibition games in Canada in August. The trip allowed UW to hold 10 additional practices over the summer.
The Badgers must replace all three starters. While center Jared Berggren and forwards Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz had their share of struggles on offense in 2012-13, they were solid rebounders and the leaders of a defense that statistically was among the best during Ryan’s successful run at UW. Junior Frank Kaminsky, a reserve during his first two seasons, will be expected to take over at center for Berggren, the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots. Kaminsky can stretch defenses with his ability to knock down shots from 3-point range, but he needs to be stronger around the rim on both ends of the court.
Dekker will move into a starting — and perhaps starring — role after being a sparkplug off the bench during his first season with the Badgers. The dynamic forward averaged 9.6 points per game, the most by a UW freshman since Alando Tucker’s 12.0 in 2002-03.
Finding a third starter and some depth in the post will likely be Ryan’s biggest challenge heading into the season. Junior forward Duje Dukan, who redshirted last season after dealing with a bout of mononucleosis during the preseason conditioning session, senior forward Zach Bohannon and junior center Evan Anderson have to prove they’re ready for expanded roles. UW likely will need Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes to make significant contributions as freshmen. If Brown and Hayes can earn Ryan’s trust as defenders, one of them could find a place in the starting lineup.
The Badgers return four guards with starting experience. Junior Josh Gasser started 66 games at shooting guard during his first two seasons and was ready to take over as the Badgers’ point guard in 2012-13 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in late October. Gasser, who makes good decisions, shoots well from 3-point range and is a great defender, expects to be back in time for the 2013-14 opener.
Senior Ben Brust averaged a team-high 11.1 points per game in his first season as a starter. After being mostly a spot-up shooter during the first half of his career, Brust became a more complete player and was arguably UW’s most valuable asset a year ago.
George Marshall replaced Gasser at point guard to start the season, but he was replaced after six games by Traevon Jackson. Jackson, a junior, has a knack for making clutch plays in close games, but he needs to improve his shot selection and ball-handling. If Marshall, a sophomore, can overcome confidence issues, he can help the Badgers on offense because he’s quick enough to get to the rim and has a nice shooting stroke. Freshman Bronson Koenig, a terrific passer who might be able to help UW score in transition more often, adds to a deep backcourt.
UW went into Ohio to land a pair of athletic forwards in Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes, who should battle for playing time in the Badgers’ depleted frontcourt. Bronson Koenig is a flashy point guard who will be tough to keep off the floor. Riley Dearring is a good shooter but probably needs a redshirt season to add muscle to his thin frame. Redshirting might also be the best option for Jordan Hill, who is a tenacious defender but needs to work on his offensive game.
Wisconsin has finished no worse than fourth place in the Big Ten in each of Bo Ryan’s 12 seasons. The Badgers finished fourth or better only three times in the 34 seasons prior to Ryan taking over the program.
UW finished with its lowest field goal, free throw and 3-point shooting averages in Ryan’s 12 seasons but still finished with seven victories over teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll. The Badgers should be better offensively with Dekker becoming the team’s go-to scorer, but UW’s success — and Dekker’s mood heading into the next offseason — will depend on how much Kaminsky and others step up in the frontcourt.
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