I've had multiple systems for picking winners in the NCAA Tournament over the years. I've picked teams based on mascot ferocity, flipping a coin, hours and hours of fruitless research, and blindly selecting my favorite team to win it all. However, the most effective method I've come across is to look for teams with a backcourt chock full of upperclassmen and pick those teams.
This year's iteration of Wisconsin basketball will feature two senior starters in the backcourt, point guard Traevon Jackson and shooting guard Josh Gasser. They started together last year and have oodles of "big game" experience, which will help them during a non-conference schedule packed with marquee matchups and during the meat grinder of a B1G schedule. There is also an exciting backup point guard who gained experience as a true freshman last year, and probably a fourth guard that will play some meaningful minutes at some point due to foul trouble.
Let's take a look at how the Wisconsin guards will shake out this season! Exclamation points mean I'm excited!
Bo Ryan is extremely lucky this year because he has two guards that have been in his system for so long that they'll need very little coaching. Jackson and Gasser both also have experience being the main ball handler, which is key for versatility.
Traevon Jackson - You may have heard something about this before, but Trae Jackson has been something of a, I don't know, augmentative point amongst Badger fans. Here is something you can't argue about: Jackson had his best season of his career last year and there is nothing point towards a decline this year. As a junior last year, Jackson averaged 10.7 points per game and 4 assists per game. His turnovers stayed consistent with his sophomore year numbers while playing more minutes per game. Jackson has proven time and time again that he is unafraid of taking the final shot of a possession or game, and having a ballsy point guard is a wonderful asset. After being asked a probing and insightful question at B1G Media Day by a dashing and intrepid "reporter," Sam Dekker had this to say about Jackson's leadership qualities, "having a guy like Trae with experience, he's been there before, it's big for you because he's the one that runs the show and gets you going." Jackson will be, and I don't think I'm speaking in hyperbole, the reason Wisconsin does or does not reach their goals this season.
Josh Gasser - Starting shooting guard Josh Gasser is kind of a "bizarro Trae Jackson." He almost never turns the ball over and constantly makes the right pass without forcing anything. What Jackson has in chutzpah and electricity, Gasser has solid defensive rotations and setting his feet properly on bounce passes. They have an excellent cohesiveness where one excels in areas the other is deficient in. Last year Gasser lead the conference in free throw percentage and was sixth in win shares. He averaged a respectable 8.8 points per game, an average 1.9 assists per game, and a solid (for a guard) 4.0 rebounds per game. Gasser is also the player that will guard the opposition's best backcourt/wing player and more often than not he shuts them down. Dekker notes, "in my mind he's one of the best defenders in the entire Big Ten." Gasser is the player you will hear the least about of the Badgers' starting five this year, but he is arguably the most valuable player on the court for Wisconsin.
In an ideal world, your starters would be able to play every minute of every game at a high level without getting hurt or tired, but as far as I know that hasn't happened yet. The Badgers have a couple of options to give Gasser and Jackson a break.
Bronson Koenig - The Badgers third guard, and probable first man off the bench depending on matchups, is sophomore point guard Bronson Koenig. The top prospect out of La Crosse, Wisconsin got regular minutes last year as a true freshman, and impressed in his debut season. In the Badgers' most important games of the season (two conference tourney games and five NCAA Tourney games), Koenig averaged 19.3 minutes per game and appeared to have the trust of Ryan and the coaching staff. When Jackson got in foul trouble during the first half of the Final Four game against Kentucky, he scored 11 points. "Bronson is one of the most talented guys I've ever played with. Last year he had some ups and downs, but I think he's ripe for a big year. He's more skilled than most players I've been around," Dekker said at B1G Media Day. Dekker played against LeBron James this summer, so I'm pretty sure he just confirmed that Koenig is better than James.
Redshirt sophomore Zak Showalter will most likely be the fourth guard for the Badgers. He will provide energy, defense, and the occasional bucket off the bench.
Overall Grade: B+
While there are no apparent weaknesses in the Wisconsin backcourt, there is no true superstar and scoring from there could prove to be a slight problem. However, the Badger backcourt will be lockdown defensively, will make their free throws, and if Koenig gets a bit more run, could solve the minor offensive issues facing the guards.