Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 25-9, 13-5 Big Ten (3rd Big Ten), lost in the Sweet 16 to Butler

Head Coach: Bo Ryan

Key Losses: Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Tim Jarmusz

Newcomers: Jared Uthoff, Frank Kaminsky, George Marshall, Traevon Jackson, Jordan Smith

Projected Lineup:

- G: Jordan Taylor, Sr.
- G: Josh Gasser, So.
- F: Ryan Evans, Jr.
- F: Mike Bruesewitz, Jr.
- C: Jared Berggren, Jr.
- Bench: Jarrod Uthoff, Fr.; Evan Anderson, Fr.; Duje Dukan, Jr.; Rob Wilson, Sr.; Ben Brust, So.; Traevon Jackson, Fr.

Outlook: Eventually, we are all going to learn to stop overlooking Wisconsin when posting preseason polls. As Rush The Court proved last week, no team in the country is more consistently undervalued heading into the season than Wisconsin. The Badgers are the epitome of what it means to be a "program" in college hoops. In a way, Bo Ryan runs his team like a mid-major. He recruits players to fit hi system as opposed to the guys that sit atop the top 100 lists. The guys on hi team aren't being prepared for a career at the next level, they are being groomed to slide into starting roles as juniors and seniors. That's why a team that graduates three starters can confidently be considered a legitimate challenger to Ohio State in the Big Ten.

Well, that, and Jordan Taylor. There is no player in the country as underrated on a national scale as Taylor. What he did as a junior was flat-out unbelievable. Playing on a team that averaged the second fewest possessions in the country last year, Taylor managed to average 18.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and 4.7 apg. He also shot 42.9% from the floor and turned the ball over just 42 times in 34 games despite playing 36.5 mpg as the primary ball handler. From an efficiency guru's point of view, there is a legitimate argument to be made that Taylor was the best player in the country last season, but it took his ridiculous performance over the last 15 minutes of Wisconsin's comeback win over then-undefeated Ohio State for the country to take notice.

Joining Taylor in the back court will be sophomore Josh Gasser. Gasser, who is the only player in Wisconsin basketball history to notch a triple-double, started from day one as a freshman. Gasser is a solid all-around contributor -- he defends, he rebounds the ball, he's a good passer and he doesn't turn the ball over -- but where he struggled in his first season in Madison was as a shooter. He hit 13 of his last 29 threes, however, so there is reason to be optimistic for an improvement. Rob Wilson is a senior that is going to be counted on for leadership and a significant improvement on his junior year, where he appeared to lose his confidence as the season moved along. Wilson is 6'4", but he's more of a forward than a guard and he'll be counted on to take up some of the minutes lost with the graduation of Tim Jarmusz. Sophomore Ben Brust as some potential as a shooter off the bench, but he struggled to see the floor as a freshman. Freshman Traevon Jackson will see time as well. He's a solidly built combo-guard that is the son of former Ohio State Buckeye Jim Jackson.

Jared Berggren will likely get the first crack at starting in the middle. Wisconsin loses a ton from their front court with Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil graduating, and its difficult to expect Berggren to fill that role. He's a different player. The 6'10" junior has the ability to step out and hit a perimeter jumper -- a skill that made Leuer and Nankivil so dangerous last season -- but he is more of a low-post threat than either of those two. Wisconsin will need him not only to cut down on his fouls and his turnovers, but to become a more consistent rebounder as well. Evan Anderson, a 6'10" redshirt freshman, is going to be counted on to play quite a few minutes up front, as will true freshman Jarrod Uthoff.

The forward spot is going to be the most interesting position for Wisconsin. Mike Bruesewitz had a very promising sophomore season. The 6'6" combo-forward began the year as the starting small forward, but it was eventually determined that he was most effective coming off the bench. Bruesewitz is a high-energy player that works on the defensive end of the floor and was the team's best offensive rebounder last season. His offensive also came around late in the year, and he double his scoring and rebounding output in March and hit a number of big shots late in the season. He'll need to become a legitimate second-scoring option for the Badgers.

The other guy that Bo Ryan will have his eye on is junior Ryan Evans, who is in his fourth-year in the program. At 6'6", Evans is a tough defender with potential, but he's yet to live up to that potential on the offensive end of the floor. There is always going to be a spot in the rotation for a guy that plays the style that Evans does, but he's an offensive liability that makes head-scratching decisions at times. Wisconsin will be counting on him for a breakout season.

What will be interesting this season is to see exactly how Wisconsin adapts to losing Nankivil and Leuer. The way that those two shot the basketball was a huge reason that Taylor was able to be as successful as he was last season. This year, the Badgers will likely be playing smaller, with Bruesewitz playing more of the four spot. He's more than capable of doing so, and that role will allow Ryan to have some of that perimeter shooting still linger on his front line. But it will also make a team that struggled defensively and on the glass that much smaller.

I believe in Bo Ryan, and I think that he has enough talent surrounding Taylor that his team will once again be able to compete with anyone in the country. The Badgers will look different, but with a veteran all-american like Taylor running the show, the change in philosophies shouldn't have a huge impact on the output from the program.

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