The Wisconsin Badgers return four of their five starters from a Final Four team and are about to embark on the most highly anticipated season in Wisconsin basketball's long, if not storied, history. Ever since Traevon Jackson's last second jumper spun out of the rim in Dallas, Badger fans have been looking towards Friday as the start of "the season."
Frank Kaminsky has been on every preseason All-America team, yes even yours, and is joined on the preseason all-conference team by small forward Sam Dekker. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes returns and Bo Ryan is still on the sidelines doing Bo Ryan things. What I'm trying to say is, the Badgers are loaded.
Expectations are extremely high in Madison, and a veteran laden team should not be overburdened by them. However, there are a few areas of concern that the Badgers must deal with in order to reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season. Let's delve into them and hope that someone on the team reads this post so the problems get fixed before the Battle for Atlantis!
Body Blow Theorem
There is an idea in college football, and other sports as well I'd assume, where a top-tier team gets every opponent's best shot every night and eventually it leads to a loss that might not have happened otherwise. Any good boxer will tell you that one has to work the body before going for the knockout shot, and the same strategy applies here in college basketball.
The Badgers will be highly ranked all season and will be getting the other team's top effort from Duke to Nicholls State. While I don't think that Nicholls State will beat Wisconsin this year, there are several under the radar teams that could benefit from all the body blows that the Badgers take. To start conference play, Wisconsin plays Penn State, at Northwestern, Purdue, at Rutgers and Nebraska. The Badgers should be favored in all of those games, but after taking body blows from the first four, Nebraska could be primed to knock Wisconsin out.
Wisconsin will certainly be battle tested by the time the Tournament rolls around, but they will also be a bit bloodied by facing every team's A game all year. Could a scrappy upstart take Wisconsin down on the first weekend of the Tourney? After absorbing all those hits, it's quite possible.
Any team that has seven of its top eight leading scorers returning is probably in line for a pretty good season. This applies to the Badgers this year, however the one player they lost was their second leading scorer last year. Ben Brust graduated in May and took his 12.8 points per game and his career 38.7% three point shooting percentage with him. His eFG% which takes into account that threes are more valuable than twos was 54.7%, which was fourth best in the conference.
Brust was a key part of Wisconsin's offense, often being looked to for a big shot or rally killing three, and will be sorely missed. He attempted 115 more threes than the next player on Wisconsin's roster last year and someone is going to have to take those shots. Bronson Koenig is the most likely option, as the first guard off the bench, but he is more of a point guard than a shooting guard.
The Badgers won't have a problem with three point shooters because everyone in the rotation will be able to knock down a triple, but they don't have a pure gunner like Brust on the roster. Brust also brought superior rebounding from the guard position and vastly improved defense by his junior year.
If Wisconsin can find someone to fill the gunner roll, Brust's loss won't be felt, but as of now there is no one in the projected rotation who can do so.
Both varieties could be a problem for the Badgers this year. First, Wisconsin remained extremely healthy last season. The top eight in the rotation played in all 38 games, except for Koenig who played in a measly 37. That's remarkable luck for one team to have and it, unfortunately, won't last two seasons in a row. Dekker already tweaked an ankle or twisted a knee or did some sort of something to his lower leg, which forced him to miss the preseason games. If Wisconsin escapes with that being their only injury this year, every team in America will be clamoring to know the Badgers training staff's secrets.
The second kind of tape is the video version. Every team has an entire season of tape on the Badgers, and since they return so much, that tape will prove extremely valuable to opposing coaches. Kaminsky came out of nowhere last year, but there is now 38 games worth of Frank the Tank post-moves and step out threes for people to analyze. Teams probably noticed how Kentucky made Kaminsky less effective and will try to emulate that. Hopefully they all have a wealth of NBA ready frontcourt talent! Anywho, Detective Kaminsky will probably be seeing a fair number of double teams this year and will have to be ready with a counter-attack.
These two kinds of tape, the healing kind and the video kind, will have a major impact on the season for the Badgers.
Rapid Fire Concerns
Wisconsin's defense wasn't as good last year as it had been in the past. Three years ago they were the third best team in the conference in defensive rating, two years ago they were first and last year they were sixth. Fortunately, their offensive rating was extremely high last year.
No backup for Kaminsky. The Badgers would have to completely change their lineup if he were to miss any significant amount of time.
Enough minutes to go around. Wisconsin has been known to lean on their starters to play a lot of minutes with Ryan at the helm. With multiple capable backups, that would be starting most other years for the Badgers, Ryan will have to keep everyone happy.