The Badgers went into last season with some optimism, and a lot of questions. Wunderkind Sam Dekker was a rising sophomore and Ben Brust's sharp-shooting was going to spread the floor so that their depleted front court (Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz all graduated) could take time to develop. Lest you forget, that frontcourt developed to the tune of Frank "First Team All-B1G and West Region MOP" Kaminsky and Nigel "B1G Freshman of the Year" Hayes. We're still working on nicknames for these two here at the BTP Nicknameatorium, but the fact remains, Wisconsin's front court issues were solved with a bullet.
Going into the 2014-2015 season there is a completely different tune being played by the Badgers. They only have to replace one player, starting shooting guard Ben Brust, and return every other major contributor from last season's Final Four team. They have "been there before" and "know what it takes" and "other sports platitude." Why should Wisconsin be optimistic heading into this season? My editors are limiting me to five reasons, so here they are!
Five reasons to be optimistic about Wisconsin in 2014-15
#1 - Sam Dekker's Workout Plan
It's tough to keep up with all the summer league action that goes on between the beginning of June and the beginning of August. There are camps every week and different players are doing well, but one thing that seemed to carry over from camp to camp was how great Sam Dekker looked. Seriously, check out the tweets in this post! Everyone said Dekker looked "assertive" and "the best."
#2 - The Chocolate Tornado has landed
Despite admitting that he stole the move from Shaq, Nigel Hayes broke out the Chocolate Tornado as well as other impressive post moves for a true freshman last season. He is reigning B1G Freshman of the Year after averaging 7.7 points per game and 2.8 boards per game last year. When you just look at his conference stats, those numbers bump up to 9.8 and 3.4 respectively. The 6'7 (and nearly 250 pound) sophomore will be looking to take a leap forward this year and take some of the pressure off of another Wisconsin Reason for Optimism, center Frank Kaminsky.
Hayes is a player that combines the best parts of the two forwards he replaced (Evans and Bruesewitz). He can shoot like Bruiser, albeit better from midrange and worse from beyond the arc, and he can rebound like Evans. If he can extend his range to the three point line (he attempted a robust zero threes last season) and improve his defense to Evans levels, Hayes has the chance to be one of the finest power forwards to ever play for Bo Ryan.
These tweets came out after the post was written:
Bo Ryan on Nigel Hayes: "He’s got three-point range now." (1 of 2)— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) September 10, 2014
cont'd: "We did a transition drill recently where we set the shot clock at 17 seconds. Over six possessions, he hit five threes." (2 of 2)— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) September 10, 2014
They are ominous for the rest of the B1G.
#3 - Frank the Tank, Fupps, Detective Frank Kaminsky
Oh thank goodness, it appears we didn't have to work overtime at the Nicknameatorium. All-B1G center Frank Kaminsky already has multiple nicknames! To say that Kaminsky's season came out of nowhere last year would be, uh, accurate. Existing in a backup role for his first two seasons, Kaminsky never averaged more than 10.5 minutes per game or 4.5 points per game. Was he serviceable? Yes, very. Was he tall? Yes, very. Was he primed to be the best center in the conference, maybe the country, and be talked about to leave early for the NBA Draft? Umm, no.
Kaminsky exploded onto the national scene when he broke the Wisconsin single game scoring record against North Dakota in November, dropping 43 points in a demolition of the Fighting Sioux. Heck, even the national guys at SB Nation took notice! From there on out he proceeded to have one of the best seasons in Wisconsin basketball history. He averaged 13.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 52.8% from the floor and 37.8% from distance.
The Tank further endeared himself to the Badger faithful by spurning the NBA's sudden interest, claiming the league looked "boring," and returned to Madison for his senior year. If he can improve his interior defense just a little and lead Wisconsin on another deep run in the Tournament, Kaminsky should hear his name called in the top-20 of next year's draft. Not bad for a goofy kid from Lisle, Illinois. Not bad at all.
#4 - Continuity
The probable starting lineup for the Badgers this year is going to include three seniors, one junior, and one sophomore. The seniors include a defensive stalwart and three point assassin that has even redshirted a year (due to injury) named Josh Gasser, an oft maligned but steely reserved point guard in Traevon Jackson, and the aforementioned Kaminsky. The junior is Sam Dekker, whom we've also already mentioned and the sophomore is Nigel Hayes, who (surprise!) we already mentioned. The sixth man is redshirt senior Duje Dukan and the seventh man is sophomore Bronson Koenig (who played a vital role last year as the backup point guard). While there are many examples of teams reloading year after year with star-studded freshman classes making a run and there are examples of senior-laden teams putting it all together one last time and making a run, there are few teams that have star-power and experience on their side. The 2014-2015 Wisconsin Badgers will be one of those teams.
And it's a good thing too. The Badgers have a brutal non-conference schedule featuring the likes of Duke, Marquette, Cal, and some combination of Florida, Georgetown, UNC, UCLA, Butler, Oklahoma, and UAB in the Battle for Atlantis. Then there is the meat grinder of a Big Ten conference schedule, the Big Ten Tournament, and whatever obstacles the NCAA Tournament throws their way before the Final Four. Roster continuity is going to be a big reason why the Badgers may do better than last season. It certainly can't hurt.
#5 - Double Plays
The Badgers caught a bit of a break in terms of conference scheduling this year. The teams they play twice this season are Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. While Iowa and Minnesota are rivalry games (and impossible places to win on the road in most years) and Nebraska had a breakout year last year, getting NU and PSU twice is a blessing. Every year UW loses a game or two in conference it shouldn't, but with a manageable conference schedule, they should be in pretty good shape come March.
There is really no way to sugarcoat the expectations for this season. Wisconsin expects to do well. They expect to do as well as they did last year. They are a veteran team with star power that doesn't have many weaknesses. With a tough non-conference draw that could hopefully lead to some marquee wins and the prestige of playing in the B1G, the Badgers should be mentally and physically prepared for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It's rare for a Badger team to have such high expectations heading into a basketball season, but this year, it's Final Four or bust.