The Big Ten is undoubtedly in a year of transition, as many of the conference's top players have left for the NBA. The Big Ten was the best conference in the country last year, but many of the top teams are looking for new players to take over and run the show. The same can be said with Wisconsin, as the Badgers are looking to replace Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Mike Bruesewitz. Coach Bo Ryan has some very exciting young talent to work with, but this Badgers team will undoubtedly look very different from last year.
1. Sam Dekker
There is no reason for a Wisconsin Badgers fan to be excited more than the development of Sam Dekker. He averaged 9.6 points a game as a freshman, the fourth best on the team. Everyone knows that Bo Ryan is extremely cautious when it comes to playing freshman, as Dekker only started three games all season, but he is only the fourth true freshman to start a game under Ryan. Dekker's playing time and playmaking ability was undoubtedly restricted because of his first year status and deference to Bo Ryan basketball, especially with the offense revolving around senior big men Berggren and Evans. Badger fans were certainly able to catch a glimpse of his greatness, with multiple highlight-reel dunks throughout the season, a commodity in Madison.
Wisconsin's trip to Canada may have provided a glimpse into how Wisconsin's offense will operate in 2013-2014. Dekker led the team throughout the trip, with multiple 15+-point games, including a 28-point, 7 rebound performance in Wisconsin's opening game against Carleton University. Dekker also showed off his impressive playmaking abilities, which we will undoubtedly see more of this season.
In all, with a full season under his belt, Bo Ryan will have to count on Dekker leading the team in multiple ways if the Badgers are going to continue to occupy their spot at the top of the conference.
2. Guard depth
As Kevin Dlugos highlighted in his article on Ohio State, nearly all of the premier big men in the conference have graduated or moved on to the NBA, likely meaning that the conference is going to be smaller and faster, requiring top teams to have guards who can score and defend. This is one area where I believe Wisconsin is very well suited going into this season. Every guard who received playing time last year is back, Josh Gasser is finally returning from injury, and Wisconsin's AP Basketball Player of the Year Bronson Koenig will be coming in as a freshman to round out the squad. Last season, Ben Brust proved himself as a legitimate shooting guard, who clearly has the ability to hit a big shot or two, and I expect him to start every game this season. Trevon Jackson developed exponentially as the season continued, hitting some big shots down the stretch and providing consistent PG play.
Gasser, who holds Wisconsin's fifth all-time best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.95, will be fighting for the starting point guard position, and I will be surprised if he isn't an everyday starter once he is completely recovered from his injury. Additionally, young players like George Marshall and Zak Showalter look to improve with experience and push for significant playing time. With all players combined, Bo Ryan will have plenty of options to experiment with to come up with a steady attack. I expect we will see plenty of three guard sets this season, especially with Wisconsin's inexperience up front.
3. Bo Ryan has freshmen actually ready for playing time
Everyone knows that Bo Ryan is extremely cautious with his young players, as I said earlier he has started only five freshmen during his time at Wisconsin. Incoming freshman forwards Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown will have an opportunity to make a significant impact on this team. Besides Dekker, Frank Kaminsky is the only forward to have received any sort of real playing time (more on him later). This means that there is a huge void needed to be filled up front, with Hayes and Brown right in the middle of the fight. Hayes (6' 7", 230 lbs.) is an ESPN Top-100 recruit from Toledo, Ohio who was also recruited heavily by Ohio State. He averaged 15.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game for Whitmer High School as a senior.
Brown (6'8", 220 lbs.) was the Ohio Division 2 Co-Player of the Year last season, as he averaged 23.7 points and 13.0 rebounds per game as a senior for the Bowling Green Bobcats. They will have to compete with Duje Dukan, Zach Bohannon, and Evan Anderson for significant time up front. All three of those players have been in Madison for 4+ years, but none have received any sort of real playing time, opening the door for these freshmen to have major contributions. I expect at least one of them will develop quickly and be a major role player down the stretch for Wisconsin.
Honorable Mention: Frank the Tank
Frank Kaminsky has had an up and down first couple of years as a Badger. He has been largely constrained, as players like Brusewitz, Evans, and Berggren have taken up most of the minutes on the front end. Last season, he averaged 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, but showed flashes of his potential, such as when he scored 19 points in 23 minutes on Feb. 3 at Illinois. Kaminsky will undoubtedly have an opportunity to break out this season. He is essentially guaranteed a roster spot as the only forward besides Dekker to have played significant minutes for Bo Ryan. All indications are that Kaminsky is continually getting stronger and more aggressive inside, and that's exactly what Wisconsin needs. If he continues to develop all facets of his game, he has potential to be a star in Madison for the next two years.
All in all, I am hard pressed to claim that the Badgers will be better this season than they were last year. Losing Berggren, Evans, and Brusewitz will clearly have a large impact on the team, but Bo Ryan always seems to pull his guys together and retain a spot amongst the Big Ten's best. If players like Dekker and Kaminsky can develop to fill their true potential, along with real freshmen contribution, this could be a very competitive Wisconsin squad. Imagine this: Koenig playing point guard dishing to Gasser and Brust on the outside, with Kaminsky dominating what looks to be a weak Big Ten frontcourt. Oh yeah, and Sam Dekker. If he plays the way Badger fans think he can, he legitimately could be one of the best players in the Big Ten. I would be surprised if this is the first year a Bo Ryan squad falls below fourth in the Big Ten, and who knows, maybe Dekker can lead them to a long-awaited deep NCAA Tournament run.
More from BT Powerhouse:
- Wednesday Powerlinks: Aaron Craft Is Officially Off the Market
- Three Reasons Purdue Will Be Better in 2013-14
- Monday Powerlinks: Big Ten Recruiting, Top 25 Polls and Purdue Adds a Familiar Face
- Three Reasons Indiana Basketball Will Be Better This Year
- Three Reasons Penn State Will Be Better in 2013-14