With the college basketball season inching closer, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next few weeks. Today, we continue our team previews with a look at the Wisconsin Badgers.
The style of play might not be sexy, but under the tutelage of Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin Badgers have become one of the top programs in the Big Ten. Over the past five seasons, Wisconsin is 65-23 in conference play. That impressive mark trails only one team — Ohio State.
Wisconsin finished the 2010-11 season with a 25-9 record and advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual runner-up Butler. Statistically, the Badgers had the league’s most efficient offense, the lowest turnover percentage (11.1) and were also the Big Ten’s best defensive rebounding team.
The combination of Jon Leuer, a second round NBA Draft pick of the San Antonio Spurs, and Jordan Taylor, who returns to Madison this year for his senior season, was as good as any in the league. One of Leuer’s 2011 KenPom comparables was JaJuan Johnson, the Big Ten Player of the Year. Taylor, meanwhile, turned in the second lowest turnover percentage in the country (8.5), shot close to 43 percent from behind the 3-point line and ranked in the top 25 nationally in offensive rating.
Despite losing Leuer, who averaged 18.3 ppg, and two other starters — Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz — Wisconsin is expected to once again contend for a conference title. Josh Gasser, who started 30 games and recorded the school’s first triple-double as a freshman, will join Taylor, a consensus All-American pick, in anchoring the backcourt.
The question marks surrounding this Wisconsin team are up front where guys like Mike Bruesewitz (4.6 ppg and 3.1 rpg) and Jarred Berggren (2.4 ppg and 1.1 rpg) will be counted on to shoulder much larger roles. Bruesewitz, who hit close to 63 percent of his 2-point attempts a year ago, looks like a potential breakout candidate. Berggren will finally get a chance for significant minutes following Nankivil’s departure. A pair of freshmen — Jarrod Uthoff and Frank Kaminsky — could also figure into the rotation along with junior Ryan Evans.
Bottom line: The presence of Taylor coupled with a solid supporting cast should be enough to push Wisconsin to another top three finish in the conference. The Badgers have been nearly unbeatable at home under Ryan (154-11), so a late February meeting with Ohio State in Columbus could ultimately decide the Big Ten champion.
Quotable: “We have a lot of plans for the team and we have a lot of guys who have been working hard this summer; guys who feel like they have a lot to prove. Some of them are in a similar situation to what I was in going into last season – feeling like they have to earn respect by probably playing with a chip on their shoulder.’’ – Taylor during the offseason to UWBadgers.com.
All stats in this piece from KenPom.