Last season, Wisconsin's frontcourt consisted of Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans, and Jared Berggren. After graduating those three stabilizing forces down low, it sure seemed like they would struggle in this facet. But strong early performances, headlined by Sophomore guard Sam Dekker, have inspired hope in Badger fans that their frontcourt could become an asset. But the other spot up front is more of a wildcard. In the early going, 3 players stand out as possibilities to play alongside Dekker: Junior Frank Kaminsky, redshirt Junior Duje Dukan, or Freshman Nigel Hayes. Let's examine how Bo Ryan can shuffle his big men for maximum success.
Well, not so fast. Some major differences exist between last year and this year's teams. Last year, the Badgers played big, evidenced by the lineup of Bruesewitz, Evans, and Berggren. But this year, Wisconsin's greatest asset is its enormously deep backcourt. With the return of Josh Gasser, they now can get away with playing smaller. Their starting lineup in their win against Florida (and for the foreseeable future) had Traevon Jackson running the point, with Ben Brust and Josh Gasser at the 2 and 3. But what's even better is that their backcourt bench is exceptionally strong. George Marshall, who had somewhat of a baptism by fire last year, will take on a smaller role this year. But that won't change the fact that he grew leaps and bounds as a shooter, and will be huge when Jackson needs a break. And don't forget Freshman phenom Action Bronson Koenig. The La Crosse, WI product had offers from Duke and UNC, and proved in the victory over UW-Green Bay that he can manage a college team. He only turned the ball over once in 23 minutes against a very tough team.
What does this mean for the big guys? Since Dekker is a lock to start at the 4, the starting lineup is basically set in stone, save for the final frontcourt spot. Like I said earlier, three guys will fight for this spot. Let's go one-by-one and see how they all can contribute.
Here's a legit 7-footer from Lisle, Illinois who has a hold on the starting center position for the time being. Last season, he played in all 35 games, averaging 10.3 minutes per game backing up Berggren. In a year where the Badgers inexplicably could not hit their free throws, he was consistent from the line, shooting 76.7%. His best game was against Illinois, where he dropped 19 points in a winning effort. He demonstrated that he's a viable threat from behind the arc last year, but didn't succeed with rebounding, pulling down only 1.8 per game last year.
He was christened as the starter at center ever since Berggren graduated, and so far, he's been about what Badger fans expected. Facing off against stronger, more physical big men still causes struggles for Kaminsky. This was on display in the victory against Florida. Mind you, there aren't a lot of big men in the country more physically imposing than Patric Young, but Kaminsky had trouble during the first half of the Florida game. The Badgers hit their stride without him on the court, because Young just manhandled him during box-outs. Kaminsky rebounded (no pun intended) in a big way against UW-Green Bay. He played probably his most complete game so far as a Badger, with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Looking very under control the whole time, he played a nice two-man game with Trae Jackson, leading to easy buckets like this:
Frank Kaminsky Two-Handed Jam (via bigtennetwork)
More likely than not, Kaminsky will remain the starter for the rest of the season. But if he struggles against the stronger B1G men, then Bo Ryan will have to look towards the bench for help. Just bring back the glasses, Frank.
Ok, I wrote the majority of this before Frank Kaminsky dropped 43 points on 15-17 shooting, going 6-6 from three, setting the SINGLE GAME RECORD FOR MOST POINTS SCORED BY A BADGER. Good on you, Frank. He had the game of his life, and probably established himself as the permanent starter at the 5. He's not going to drop 40 every game, but he's proved that he can get hot. And just look at this picture.
It's Big Fupps' world. We're just living in it.
Born in Croatia, this native of Deerfield, Illinois took a medical redshirt last season due to mono. But he's made great strides since he first arrived in Madison. He added over 30 pounds of muscle in his three years, and declared that his bulkier physique has made him a more versatile weapon.
"Now that I've added weight, I think I can play inside with bigger guys, but I can also be out on the perimeter and chase guys off screens," he said. "I think it makes me more versatile and offensively I can post up or step outside and handle the ball."
So far, Dukan has been a great addition to the Badger frontcourt. In the first game of the season against St. John's, Dukan dropped 15 points, and played strong inside and outside. He was 2-3 from outside, but also was a bulldog inside, getting to the line three times. Although chants of "Hip Hip, Duje!" resonated throughout the student section against Florida, he couldn't hit his stride in that game. He played only 7 minutes in both the Florida and UW-Green Bay games, making no real major contributions.
I can't see Dukan ever taking the starting spot from Kaminsky. He just doesn't provide the same length defensively. But I can see him playing some small-ball rotations with Dekker, as the two swingmen jack up threes and run the floor. If they use that lineup against the right teams, it could be lethal.
Side note: Dukan is one of the sweatiest players I have ever seen. In the Red-White intrasquad scrimmage (a scrimmage!), he was soaked by the second quarter. I don't think George Marshall even broke a sweat that game.
Yeah yeah, we know. Bo Ryan hates Freshmen. But this Bowling Green, Ohio product has made major contributions in a very short period of time. As Patric Young physically overpowered Kaminsky, Bo Ryan looked to Hayes to contain the Florida center. It was with Hayes on the court when Wisconsin broke the Florida game open. He's much more aggressive offensively than Kaminsky, and proved that he has a nice little mid-range game. But his specialty is on the low block. His footwork is quite impressive for a young kid like him, and hit a couple of nice bank shots on the low block.
The key for Nigel will be staying out of foul trouble. That will come with maturity, as he's still just a Freshman. But if he can control his 250 pound frame, he could be a great foil to the longer, skinnier, more skilled Kaminsky. Could Hayes ever start this season? That's a different question. Since Dekker barely started last season, either Kaminsky will have to go ice cold, or Hayes will have to play out of his mind for him to crack the top rotation. But he's established himself as the first guy off the bench, which is no easy task for a Freshman in Madison.
Will this year's frontcourt be better than last year's? That's an impossible question, because they're playing with two big guys now as opposed to three last year. But don't sleep on these big Badgers. They may not rebound like last year, but they are versatile, athletic, and give the offense a nice flow.