Team Preview: Wisconsin Badgers
By: Fraser Lockerbie
2011-12 Record: 26-10, 12-6 in the Big Ten
Coach: Bo Ryan, 268-101 at Wisconsin (651-204 overall)
It takes a little more than just an average program to break the NCAA tournament in 14 consecutive seasons; that the Badgers have done so, becoming a perennial postseason contender, speaks to the success of coach Bo Ryan, now in his twelfth season at the helm. Since his arrival, Wisconsin has won three conference championships (no easy feat in the talent-rich Big Ten) reached Sweet Sixteen six times, the Elite Eight twice and the Final Four once. But that elusive tournament crown still eludes them.
That might change in 2013; after patching some serious holes in the front court and with four starters returning, Ryan and Wisconsin could finally be poised to crash the National Title game.
Strongside: Last season the Badgers, with no bona fide offensive big man, relied heavily on their perimeter game, limiting their turns for free points at the line and leading to prolonged lapses in scoring. To correct that, Ryan has brought in redshirt guard George Marshall, a slasher who can drive through the lane and will eventually inherit this offense. Ditto Sam Dekker, a forward with an impressive pull-up jumper (who can also shoot a three, as evidenced by his .438 mark from behind the line this season). Both should add another dimension to an offense that at times lacked options in 2012.
Of the returning starters, Wisconsin needs 6’10″ forward/center Jared Berggren to really up his post-game if the Badgers are to take that next step. Last season he improved from 2.5 points per game to 10.5; if that trend continues (and is mimicked by Ryan Evans, a senior who jumped from 2.8 to 11.0) Wisconsin (who has already perfected the three point game) shouldn’t have any trouble keeping opposing defenses on their toes.
And their own defense has always been a strength; hard-nosed and involving the whole crew. Evans and forward Mike Bruesewitz (whose roster spot is almost solely based on his defensive play) will be charged with pulling down boards while Ben Brust, a junior guard who at 6’1″ seems like an unlikely candidate to lead at anything, always seems to be disrupting a play. If Berggren can haul down what his height suggests he should (say 7.0 as a baseline), the Badgers should again be a tough out on any given night.
Weakside: Old habits might die hard. Despite some fresh faces and a theoretically re-tooled offense, with four starters returning they might be prone to revert to the three-pointer if they get behind. Bo Ryan needs to preach confidence and patience with this new scheme and the team’s veterans will have to trust in Wisconsin’s new additions to get it done. But that might be easier said than done; not only is it the tendency of young players to shoot the three when they get into trouble, but with Wisconsin’s recent success (and make no mistake about it, their track record oozes success) they may not be inclined to so readily break the mold.
All Told: Wisconsin really has added parts in all the right places; coach Ryan obviously recognized the team’s 2012 weaknesses and sought to correct them. On paper he did, but it’s going to require a readjustment veterans in the program might find difficult to make. If they do, this is a team that can contend at both ends of the floor and could see themselves on the way back to at least the sixteen. If not, they could get there anyway but probably not any further.