This past season, the Wisconsin Badgers used the consistent production of Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, neither Nankivil nor Leuer have any years of eligibility remaining. With their absence at Center and Forward, respectively, Wisconsin could face trouble on the inside.
The main contributor for Wisconsin making another NCAA appearance will have to be senior Point Guard Jordan Taylor. There may have been no player as important to his team's success than Taylor last year. Taylor ripped apart the Indiana Hoosiers in Assembly Hall for 39 points (on 11 of 19 shooting, with 7 of 8 shooting from outside). He dropped 27 points and 7 assists against Ohio State in Madison, keying an eventual knock-out of the undefeated Buckeyes. Taylor blasted Michigan State for 30 points with 8 assists in Madison as Wisconsin roasted the Spartans 82-56.
On the flip side; Taylor went sour at exactly the wrong time for Wisconsin. He missed 7 of his 9 shots against Ohio State in Columbus, missed SIX of his seven three-point attempts against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, and then had his worst game of the year against the Butler Bulldogs, turning the ball over 4 times, missing 13 of his 19 shots, with SEVEN of his ten three-point attempts coming up empty.
If Wisconsin is to do well this season, they need Taylor to avoid having such catastrophic lows. The last time I recall a Wisconsin PG playing as badly as Taylor did against Butler? Trevon Hughes' nightmare game against Cornell: for perspective, Hughes turned the ball over 6 times while committing 5 personal fouls and missing a hundred thousand shot attempts*.
* = okay, that's not fair to Trevon, he was 3 of 8 shooting and 2 of 5 from beyond the arc.
If Taylor cuts down on the poor performances, there is no reason he can't vie with Jared Sullinger for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
Wisconsin will start Josh Gasser at shooting guard. As a freshman last year, Gasser recorded the first-ever triple-double in Wisconsin history against Northwestern (10 points, 10 assists, 12 rebounds) and contributed significantly in Wisconsin's upset of undefeated Ohio State with 3 three-point shots. In the Ohio State disaster in Columbus, Gasser was Wisconsin's only bright spot, recording 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting with 6 rebounds.
Gasser averaged 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 2010-11, and after a fairly successful freshman campaign, will likely see more and more work on offense, especially with untested Jared Berggren and redshirt freshman Ryan Evans working at center.
Mike Bruesewitz will likely take over at forward from Nankivil, and Jared Berggren will take over at center from Leuer. Last year, Bruesewitz averaged 5.9 points per game in 34 appearances, with 13 starts. Bruesewitz certainly had his growing pains for Wisconsin, most especially, an incredibly frustrating performance where he turned the ball over 4 times against UNLV (including a turnover that more or less lost the game, a bad inbounds pass with the game tied late in the 2nd). Bruesewitz eventually ended up losing his starting position after a dreadful performance in the first game against Illinois. However, Bo allowed Bruesewitz to contribute from the bench, and the sophomore forwardcame up huge in the Ohio State game, where he nailed a pair of 2nd half threes to help Wisconsin knock off number one Ohio State.
Jared Berggren was a quality backup a year ago, but he averaged merely 6 minutes a game in 29 appearances with one start. With those numbers in mind, Berggren averaged about 1.1 rebounds per game and 2.4 points per game. However, Berggren had a bit of a lost offseason last year, according to Madison.com.
Berggren had a somewhat lost summer last year due to right shoulder surgery. Without the training regimen that has helped him so much this summer, he couldn't maintain his strength and never gained full confidence in his shoulder.
It's safe to say that there's plenty of room for Berggren to grow. He'll face competition from freshman C Evan Anderson, a 6'10" Center/Forward who elected to redshirt over last season to retain four years of eligibility.
Other contributors for Wisconsin will be Ben Brust, a former Iowa commit at guard who elected to decommit and join Wisconsin, and Duje Dukan, a small forward recruit. Both Dukan and Brust were members of Wisconsin's scout team a year ago, and both should see playing time this season.
Coming Attractions (in 2012 and beyond): Zach Bohannon, a 6'8" Forward from the Air Force Academy, elected to transfer to Wisconsin, but will have to sit out 2011-12 as per NCAA transfer rules. G Jordan Smith will join Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on from Orono High School (the same school that produced Jon Leuer), but with Wisconsin's depth at the guard position, it is unlikely that Smith will see a great deal of playing time until the next few seasons. Bronson Koenig, a highly-touted guard prospect from La Crosse, chose Wisconsin over offers from both Duke and North Carolina as a sophomore; he won't join UW until the 2013 season and beyond. Bucky's 5th Quarter's Phil Mitten put it:
Koenig is the No. 1 player in the state for 2013 and a consensus Top 75 player nationally in his class. Securing Koenig means more to the Badgers than just getting a very good player though.
There is definitely reason for optimism in Madison. The Badgers could threaten reigning-champion Ohio State and make a run of their own at the conference crown.
FINAL THOUGHTS BEFORE THE SEASON: Over the course of Bo Ryan's tenure in Madison, the Badgers have never finished lower than a tie for 4th in the final conference standings and have advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in every season but one (2005-06).
Prediction for the 2011-12 Season: Wisconsin rides the enormously efficient Jordan Taylor to a second-place finish in the Big Ten, making a run to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.