Team Preview: 2014 Wisconsin Badgers
By: Nick Healey
2012-13 Record: 23-12 (12-6 in the Big Ten)
Coach: Bo Ryan (300-113 Overall)
The frigid, blustery winters of America’s Dairyland are the perfect excuse to spend the season indoors watching basketball, and locals at the Kohl Center have seen a quality Wisconsin team for the past decade. The Badgers have made it to the big dance every year since Bo Ryan took over the program in 2001, including an elite eight appearance in ’05. Traditionally, the Badgers are a team of low scores and solid defense, but this year fans have seen a change of pace in their game . . . sometimes, that is. Higher scores have been put up and more of a run-and-gun style has been used on occasion, but sometimes that old defensive team still shows up to play. The shift has been a bit surprising, mostly on account of Ryan’s old school nature, and it remains to be seen how the Jekyll/Hyde routine will play out, but so far, so good.
Strongside: Big man Frank Kaminsky has rocketed off to a solid start in his junior year. He’s been hovering around the .500 mark from three-point range and put an exclamation point on a win over North Dakota by posting a school-record 43 points. Local boy Sam Dekker has also built off his exceptional freshman season, averaging just over 14 points a game through the early part of the season. He also posted a double-double in the Badgers’ recent Cancun Challenge final win. As a team, they’ve been shooting the three ball very well. At the time of writing, they rank 18th in the NCAA with a very solid .436 percentage. They also spread out the defensive work, with each of their starting five averaging around five boards a game. Combo guard Josh Gasser has also returned nicely after a torn ACL kept him out of the entire last season.
Weakside: It’s tough to find a true weakness for the team in the early days. George Marshall figured on being an important player for the team this year but suffered a concussion in the early part of the season, so it remains to be seen if he’ll contribute the way the Badgers were hoping for. One concern might be that the team doesn’t do a fantastic job at any one thing—save for the aforementioned three-ball shooting. Otherwise, they tend to be way down the rankings in some important categories. Dekker also can’t hit a free throw to save his life (.593), which might not be an issue while the team is rolling, but when the season is riding on a last-second free throw, you don’t want any weak links at the line.
All Told: An 8-0 run to start the year and the (illustrious?) Cancun Challenge title—it’s hard to complain about that. It may be a fool’s errand to question Bo Ryan (he is both plenty accomplished and plenty established), although through the early portion of the season the team has been playing with a different style and tempo than we’ve seen in the past. Early results have been impressive, but conference games still loom, and if things start to go south, you don’t want the team figuring things out on the fly. So far, though, the Badgers have given fans plenty to smile about, so we’re sure they’re happy to sit tight and enjoy the ride.
Nick Healey is a Toronto-based writer/editor. He once met Dan Akroyd in a Dairy Queen. You can follow him on Twitter @nickjhealey.