The Wisconsin Badgers (24-9, 13-5 Big Ten) ended the regular season fourth in the Big Ten. They were out of the conference tournament in round one after losing to Illinois 58-54. They made it to the NCAA Tournament, beating Wofford 53-49 in round one and then losing to Cornell 87-69 in the second round. That marked the third time in five appearances that Wisconsin was knocked out of the Big Dance in round two. The deepest they’ve gone in those five years is the Sweet 16 in 2008. The Badgers have won one NCAA Championship. That was in 1941. This season they will go to the tournament for the 16th time. They have a strong string of appearances, having appeared at every tournament since 1999.
A total of seven experienced players return to the frontcourt. Jon Leuer (6-10, 230 lbs., SR, #30, 15.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 28.8 mpg, .552 FG, .391 3PT, .720 FT) is a quality player who can pound inside and score points and take the ball to the perimeter and hit. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 2-1 and his turnover percentage of 8.5% ranked him 10th nationally. He is an especially effective rebound man on defense. On many teams he’d be a huge star, but the Badgers are a true team first, which means even someone with Leuer’s ability is merely part of the overall scheme. The big man should make All-Big Ten this year.
Sharing the court with Leuer is fellow senior Keaton Nankivil (6-8, 245 lbs., SR, #52, 8.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 25.0 mpg, .493 FG, .316 3PT, .741 FT). Although he’s not the shooter that teammate Leuer is, Nankivil can be an impressive force. He’s shown solid improvement each season but can still be an inconsistent performer. His leaping ability is very impressive, making him especially effective around the basket.
The starting small forward position could go to Mike Bruesewitz (6-6, 220 lbs., SO, #31, 1.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.2 apg, 7.4 mpg, .333 FG, .000 3PT, .800 FT), who has a fine shot from the free throw line but needs to improve from the floor. Also on the list for starting in the small forward spot is swingman Rob Wilson (6-3, 200 lbs., JR, #33, 3.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.4 apg, 12.2 mpg, .547 FG, .304 3PT, .773 FT). Wilson is versatile enough to play shooting guard or small forward. Last year, he had some dynamic moments as a shooter.
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The backcourt loses two important players from last season—Jason Bohannon (11.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.2 apg) and Trevon Hughes (15.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 spg). The two were multi-year starters who had shared in 105 wins. But there are some seasoned players who should be able to step into their shoes.
Junior Jordan Taylor (6-1, 195 lbs., JR, #11, 10.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 29.5 mpg, .395 FG, .327 3PT, .718 FT) was a solid performer who played a lot of minutes last season. He’s able to drive to the basket, shoot from the perimeter or find the open player with a pass. He was third nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio with a mark of 3-1. Taylor possesses strong leadership skills and is a smart player. He’ll be a major difference maker this season.
Along with Wilson possibly playing guard, you will likely see freshmen Ben Brust or Josh Gasser at either guard spot. Brust has a deadly three-point shot, while Gasser is a solid post up player. Both can play immediately.
Off the bench, you’ll see senior walk-on Wquinton Smith (5-11, 205 lbs., SR, #2, 0.6 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 0.0 apg, 2.8 mpg, .333 FG, .000 3PT, .333 FT) on the court as a backup at the point. He’s an able ball handler. In the frontcourt, there will be some combo of Jared Berggren (6-10, 240 lbs., SO, #40, 1.1 ppg, 0.4 rpg, 0.2 apg, 4.1 mpg, .615 FG, 1.000 3PT, .500 FT) and Ryan Evans (6-6, 210 lbs., SO, #5, 3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.6 apg, 13.2 mpg, .436 FG, .200 3PT, .613 FT). However, for both to put in important minutes, they will have to improve as shooters.
Berggren can play either the power forward or center positions. Last year, he was hampered by a shoulder injury. Evans brings some fine defensive skills to the floor and a high level of athleticism.
Wisconsin put an excellent defensive team on the floor. The Badgers were ranked 19th nationally in defensive efficiency, garnering a mark of 89.1. They had the Big Ten’s top scoring defense, allowing just 56.9 PPG. Opponents had an effective field goal percentage of 46.8% (77th) and hit just 45.2% (72nd) of their twos.
On offense, Wisconsin was ranked 17th in efficiency, coming in at 115.6. They were 3rd in turnover percentage but were ranked 249th in offensive rebounding, an area in which they need to improve. They were solid from the free throw line, tossing in 73.2% (38th). And they did well in holding onto the ball and shooting it as opponents rarely stole it or blocked their shots. With an effective field goal percentage of 51.4% (69th), the Badgers were a sound team on the attack.
Head coach Bo Ryan (247-109 in 11 years, 217-82 in nine years at Wisconsin) has done an excellent job with the Badgers, especially when it comes to home court advantage. They are 136-11 at home since he took over. That’s an amazing mark.
But on the other hand, the Badgers have been a huge disappointment when playing in the NCAA Tournament. In three of their last four appearances, they have been beaten by teams that are lower seeds. That’s certainly got some fans and players grumbling.
Still, Ryan has done some remarkable things. In seven of the past nine seasons, his teams have won 20 or more games. Under Ryan, the team’s 107-43 record in Big Ten play is the best of any club. However, for Ryan to win the hearts of all in Madison, Wisconsin, he will have to get Wisconsin to the Elite Eight at the very least.
This edition of the Wisconsin Badgers is a good team and they will once again be competitive within the conference. They were amazingly disciplined in their ball handlings and foul shooting last season. On defense, they were downright dominant.
One highlight from last year occurred when they handed Duke their first regular season loss. That was a major moment for this team. But fourth seed Wisconsin’s loss to 12th seed Cornell at the Big Dance was a major disappointment.
This team starts the 2009-2010 season ranked 22nd in the country. Chances are they will finish somewhere around fifth in the Big Ten. If they go two and out at the Big Dance again, Ryan will start to be known as the coach who can’t get his team to perform in the big spotlight. One of the problems last season was that the team played great for the first four months and then started to slip as the season wore on. Consistency throughout the year will reap rewards during tournament time. This will be a very competitive team. If they stay healthy, unlike last season, anything can happen.
Not only does Maddux Sports offer basketball picks on the regular season but you should also know that we offer NCAA tournament picks once the Big Dance rolls around. As always we expect to crush the bookmakers all season long so I would start from day 1 and turn a nice profit betting hoops this season.