It's nice to have a draft order set and the Senior Bowl behind us (other all-star games, too, I suppose). The combine is the other big event of the offseason, so we really are halfway to the draft. Sort of.
Underestimating Bo Ryan's ability to coach up his guys is like saying Minka Kelly is ugly; it's just downright idiotic. Regardless of who is gone or who is returning, Ryan always has the Wisconsin Badgers competing for a Big Ten title and a threat to make the Sweet 16. This year will be no different as the Badgers boast the best point guard in the country: Jordan Taylor. (Yeah, I said it.)
Simply put; Taylor was awesome last season earning Second Team All-American honors. He had an insane assist-to-turnover ratio of almost 4-1 and made countless plays as the shot clock was winding down, which is an integral part of being the lead guard in Ryan's offense. Even more will be needed from Taylor for Wisconsin to reach their potential, but Ryan joked at the team's media day, "I just hope he doesn't think he has to score 40 a game this year."
Taylor's backcourt mate, Josh Gasser also returns. Gasser had an extremely productive freshman campaign, contributing in all areas of the game. His hard nosed play fits in well with the Badgers but he will have to pick up his scoring this season to offset the loss of three starters.
Ben Brust and Rob Wilson will be the key backcourt reserves. Brust didn't play much last season but should chip in with his defense and ability to shoot the ball. He will also run the point when Taylor needs a blow. Wilson has suffered through a frustrating collegiate career in Madison and has been unable to find his niche with the team. He is a capable scorer but nagging injuries and the fact that he is a liability on defense have kept him off the floor.
Ryan hinted at using a smaller lineup at times this season, which could mean Brust or Wilson on the floor at the same time as Taylor and Gasser. Freshmen George Marshall and Traevon Jackson, the son of Ohio State great Jim Jackson, will likely have to wait their turn and ride the pine this season.
Wisconsin has to replace their starting frontcourt of Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, and Tim Jarmusz who are all currently playing professionally in Germany. Mike Bruesewitz was a key reserve last season bringing a ton of energy off the bench but will see a much bigger role. He must be more consistent and assertive as a complementary scorer while also showing added aggressiveness on the glass.
Ryan Evans is the early favorite to start at forward alongside Bruiser. Evans is extremely athletic and at his best when running the floor, which is something the Badgers do very rarely. His versatility is an asset on the defensive end but he is not a polished offensive player, lacking consistency with his jump shot and the low post game to score on the block.
Keep an eye on freshman forward Jared Uthoff. Ryan doesn't usually praise his newcomers in the preseason but, uncharacteristically, had this to say about Uthoff, "He's going to play and he's going to play early. Better than expected." I would not be surprised to see Uthoff in the starting lineup by the time Big Ten play starts. Seldom used Duje Dukan could also factor into the rotation if Ryan chooses to use a deeper bench.
Jared Berggren is the next in a long line of Badger big men who can score in the paint but also has range out to the three-point line. The 6-foot-10 redshirt junior is finally healthy after battling a shoulder injury and has been working on his lateral quickness so he can improve as a defender. Berggren is actually a better back-to-the-basket player than Leuer or Nankivil were so Wisconsin should look to feed the post more frequently.
Redshirt freshman Evan Anderson will backup Bergrren in the middle. At 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, Anderson is a load in the paint but also has a decent mid-range jumper. He is far from a finished product but gives the Badgers solid size off the bench. Freshman Frank Kaminsky will likely be the odd man out in the frontcourt.
In his 10 years at Wisconsin, the Badgers have never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten and made the NCAA Tournament every year under Ryan. However, the illustrious trip to the Final Four is still missing from Ryan's prolific resume. If the new frontcourt can figure itself out, Wisconsin will be a threat as always come tourney time.
Player to Watch: Mike Bruesewitz, F
Don't look for Bruiser's red ,floppy mop this season because the junior is sporting a short buzz-cut look. Lacking a true second scorer, Bruesewitz is the most likely to step into that role. He came up huge in Wisconsin's win against then top-ranked Ohio State and also put together an impressive performance in the NCAA Tournament. Bruiser won't come near the numbers that Leuer posted a year ago, but needs to be a double-digit scorer to help take some of the pressure off Taylor.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/26 vs. BYU/Nevada (Chicago Invitational Challenge)