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How Sam Dekker Got His Groove Back

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The mercurial swingman is playing the best basketball of his career and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Badgers.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Pride of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, small forward Sam Dekker was one of the most prized recruits from which the Wisconsin Badgers had ever received a commitment. He hit a game winning shot at the Kohl Center to win the high school state championship and, as a five star recruit, could not have come to Madison with any more hype.

Needless to say, Badgers fans were excited about the Sam Dekker Era under Bo Ryan. However, the high expectations haven't been met and despite flashes of brilliance (and an NBA ready body), Dekker had yet to have a sustained streak of dominance. Allow me a quick aside on Dekker?

A good friend of mine plays a plus/minus game with his wife about Dekker. It's extremely simple: whenever Dekker does something good like make a shot or grab a rebound he gets a plus. Whenever he does something bad like turn the ball over or take a wild, contested three pointer he gets a minus. If a certain threshold of plusses is reached, my friends wife has to make him his favorite dinner, eggplant parmesan. My friend went hungry more often than not, due to Dekker's habit of disappearing during games.

All of that is changing now. Sam Dekker has his groove back, and the Big Ten is being put on notice. Since losing to Rutgers, Wisconsin has rattled off nine straight conference victories without their injured starting point guard, Traevon Jackson. In those nine games, Dekker hasn't had an ORtg below 115, hasn't scored below double digits, and hasn't grabbed less than four rebounds while being used on 23% of Wisconsin's possessions.

Last night against Penn State, Dekker set a career high with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting while adding five boards and an assist. He also did this:

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It was a display that showed every tool in Dekker's arsenal. He can shoot, he's athletic, he can get to the rim and finish, and he's much improved as a defender.

If you thought the amount of hype that Dekker received before even setting foot on campus was absurd, the glowing reviews from this past summer about Dekker's game shot expectations into the stratosphere. Then Dekker hurt himself in practice before the season even started and the injury seemed to linger. He didn't look 100% and his production was limited (see games against: Duke, Marquette, Boise State). The Badgers finally had some time off after the Marquette game and the rest seemed to do Dekker well. He has scored in single digits once since then (December 6th) and has taken his game to a whole new level in conference play.

The Badgers are a nice blend of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance this year, but a lot could have gone wrong when senior point guard Jackson went down. While backup point guard Bronson Koenig will earn much of the praise for keeping the team headed in the proper direction, Dekker stepping his game up can not be overlooked.

Dekker creates matchup nightmares for opponents with his multi-faceted offensive game and if he can fulfill his potential and become the 1b offensive option to Frank Kaminsky's 1a, the Badgers will be looking at another deep run in the NCAA Tournament and Dekker will be looking at a high draft slot whenever he decides to declare for the NBA.