Wisconsin is certainly one of the biggest "question mark" teams going into next season. With the loss of Kaminsky, Dekker, Gasser, and Jackson, the Badgers have to be in trouble, right? Maybe not. Though it seems he doesn't have the same superstar lineup, you can't count out Bo Ryan and his Wisconsin Badgers just yet. In fact, they could be one of the most dangerous teams in the Big Ten and even the nation next season. Here's why.
1. With an Abundance of Underclassmen, There Could be a "Kaminsky Case"
We all know the story by now. Frank Kaminsky goes from averaging 4 points his sophomore season, to 13 his junior season, and by the time he graduates, he's won just about every award in college basketball and has taken his team to the National Championship Game. Kaminsky came out of nowhere for the Badgers, and with an abundance of underclassmen heading into next season, may we see something similar? Probably not to that extent. That being said, there is some truth behind the "Bo Ryan" effect at Wisconsin. Ryan doesn't necessarily get the top recruits in the nation, but he's able to develop average players out of high school and turn them into stars by the time they graduate.
Look at Jordan Taylor as an example. As an under-the-radar recruit out of high school, Taylor came in and averaged 1.6 points per game his freshman year on 26% shooting from the floor. But by his junior season, the Wisconsin prodigy was the star of the show with 18.1 and 43% respectively. Josh Gasser is another great example. Though it's not very likely we'll see him drafted this year, he was a huge part to the Badgers during his five-year career. From his freshman to junior year, Gasser improved his three point shooting percentage by over 15%, and even though the senior took a step back in terms of scoring last season, his team leadership was one of the biggest reasons Wisconsin made it back to a second consecutive Final Four.
Wisconsin will have no scholarship seniors next season. Eleven of the team's sixteen players will consist of freshmen and sophomores, most of which have never seen court time at Wisconsin before. Maybe its time for one of these players to breakout? Though it seems much more likely to happen to Koening or Hayes, you never know with the way Coach Ryan figures things out.
2. Wisconsin's Home Court Advantage is Dominant
Bo Ryan wins at the Kohl Center. If your team manages to go into Madison and knock off the Badgers on their home floor, then you best be counting your lucky stars on the way out. Under Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin Badgers are an incredible 210-22 at the Kohl Center. The only team to beat the Badgers last year on their home floor was the eventual National Champions: the Duke Blue Devils. In case you were wondering, Mike Krzyzewski is 459-58 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Ryan's 90.5% winning percentage at home is slightly better than Coach K's at 88.7%.
This home court advantage has served Wisconsin very well over the past decade, and it should help them through a difficult Big Ten Conference this season. Whether or not Wisconsin's as good as they were last season, and it's unlikely that they will be, it will still be very difficult to beat the Badgers at the Kohl Center.
3. Koening and Hayes are Ready for Big Years
The two names that you'll be hearing a lot of next season for the Badgers are Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koening. The two soon-to-be juniors will make up a large chunk of Wisconsin's returning scoring. Hayes had a solid season with the Badgers after averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Koening's play, specifically in the absence of Traevon Jackson, was a huge factor into Wisconsin's historical season. The sophomore's 8.7 points per game on 28.8 minutes played per game was very solid, and he'll undoubtedly be one of the go-to-guys for Bo Ryan next season.
Hayes and Koening could fill huge roles at Wisconsin similarly to the way that Dekker and Kaminsky filled theirs. If the two juniors take charge of this Badger team and have breakout seasons, there's not telling how far Wisconsin could go.
4. Fundamental Basketball is the Name of the Game in Madison
How do you think Wisconsin made it as far as they did last season? While the play of a number of big-name superstars didn't hurt things, the core of the Badgers' success was rooted in its ability to play fundamental basketball. For one, Wisconsin rarely turned the ball over. At 7.4 turnovers per game, the Badgers had the fewest giveaways of any team in the NCAA last season. With a team average of 76.1%, Wisconsin was the 11th best free throw shooting team in the nation. In addition, Bo Ryan's club knows how to play stifling defense. The Badgers were 12th in the nation for points allowed per game at just 58.2. Not bad huh?
Bo Ryan makes sure that his guys do "all the little things" correctly. Though it may seem pitiful, often times a team's greatest weakness lies in its fundamentals. Teams that can't shoot the ball from the line struggle immensely, and too many giveaways can kill a basketball club. That hasn't been a problem for the Badgers, and don't look for it to be one in the coming season.
5. Bo Ryan Gets It Done
Speaking of all the little things, there may be no better coach at doing all the little thing correctly than Bo Ryan. He teaches the game well, understands the expectations, and most importantly, knows how to win. Amazingly, Ryan has never finished worse than 4th in the Big Ten Conference. No matter what cards he's dealt, he always finds a way to win. There may be no better coach in college basketball for that. He's innovative and a sure-fire problem-solver.
So though it may look like Wisconsin has a problem next season with a lack of experience and depth in its roster, the Badgers still have Bo Ryan. There's hardly a doubt that he'll find a way to make it work, and even though it may seem unlikely, he has the drive to get his team back to a third straight Final Four.