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.