*College basketball is here (unlike the NBA), and this year might be one of the best in recent memory. The powerhouse is back, while the Cinderellas believe. That’s a deadly combination. We know some of y’all have been asking for some previews. We have you covered â€“ the top 16 teams in the nation will be previewed individually in the next few weeks. After we broke down a Xavier and ‘Zona yesterday, we’ll keep this going with No. 14-ranked Wisconsin (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll).*
For the Badger faithful in Madison, basketball season cannot come soon enough. Its football team just suffered back-to-back Big Ten losses at the hands of Michigan State and embattled Ohio State, effectively ending their chance at a BCS Title. But with opening night just days away (Nov. 5), coach Bo Ryan is confident that the Badgers have enough returning leadership and young talent to make another Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament, and give the die-hard Badger fans their first title since 1941.
The Badgers will have their hands full trying to replace the production they got from last year’s frontcourt. With Jon Leuer drafted into the NBA (now in Germany) and Keaton Nankivil now playing professionally in Germany, Wisconsin needs to figure out who can rebound the ball and finish off passes from Preseason Wooden Award Candidate Jordan Taylor. Not only could Leuer and Nankivil pick-and-pop, stretch the floor and post up, but they also defended the paint as well as any tandem in the Big Ten. As coach Ryan mentioned at Big Ten media day, it might take three or four guys to replace those two. Jared Berggren and Evan Anderson are both talented 6-10 guys who might just be suitable for the job, but look out also for Frank Kaminsky and Jarrod Uthoff, two highly touted freshmen who could find spots in the rotation if they show they can play inside and out.
Point guard Jordan Taylor has one thing that none of the other Preseason All-Americans have: experience. As a senior, Taylor’s intangibles will be just as important as his numbers, which were stellar last year: 18.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.7 apg. He sets the tone for how the rest of the team plays and a perfect example of that was in last year’s wild second round game against Jacob Pullen and Kansas State. Unable to find any consistency with his shot, going 2-for-16 from the field, Taylor watched as Pullen poured in 38 points. However, instead of wavering or shrinking from the moment, Taylor affected the game with his defense – getting a steal with 1:31 left to set up shaggy-headed Mike Bruesewitz‘s go-ahead three pointer. On K-State’s final possession, the 6-1 Taylor blocked Pullen’s three-point attempt to send the Badgers to the round of 16.
The coaching staff made it a point to schedule games against experienced teams that are likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. Everybody in Madison is circling November 30th, when the Badgers go to visit preseason No. 1 UNC, which promises to be a classic. Their non-conference schedule also features tournament regulars Marquette, UNLV, Green Bay, and Milwaukee all before the tough Big Ten schedule even begins. The UNC game and the Marquette game should prepare the Badgers for the raucous arenas that they will have to perform in during Big Ten play.
Though Mike Bruesewitz may look like Ronald McDonald with his red “wig” he was actually not a McDonald’s All-American, as Ryan pointed out at media day. Bruesewitz, who made a name for himself with his huge three to beat Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament, will need to take that major step from being a role player to a 30-minute a game type of player. In Wisconsin’s system of stretching the floor, setting screens and shooting threes, the now hairless Bruesewitz will have to contribute if the Badgers are to remain competitive.
The surprise sensation last year was freshman guard Josh Gasser, who started 30 of 34 games and posted the first ever triple double in Wisconsin with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists at Northwestern last January. He also banked in a buzzer beater to avoid an upset at Michigan. But will Gasser have a sophomore slump? Will he be able to shoulder some of Taylor’s scoring load? The 6-6 Ryan Evans and the 6-4 Rob Wilson will also vie for a starting spot at the 2-guard position. A couple of young guards, George Marshall from Chicago and Traevon Jackson from Ohio, might soon make up one of the most athletic backcourts in Wisconsin history, but for now they will have the chance to learn from Taylor. Look for the Badgers to try out a few different starting fives before Ryan settles on one rotation.
The Wisconsin Badgers are extremely well-coached, and have one of the best leaders on the floor in Jordan Taylor. Their system relies on role players who can stretch the floor, shoot consistently, and defend. Once they figure out their seven or eight-man rotation, and who their go-to big guys will be, look for Wisconsin to be right back in the thick of the Big Ten race this season.
How good is Taylor? How deep in March will the Badgers go?
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