Big Ten Summer Check In: Wisconsin BadgersPosted by Deepak Jayanti on July 17th, 2012
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan clearly does not care about preseason rankings. The regular season rankings don’t seem to bother him much either. Seemingly every year, his program is said to be having a tough time to keep up with the rest of the Big Ten because of departing players or numerous other reasons. But the Badgers recharge, they understand their talent, they play good defense, and they play within a system. Wisconsin fans have gotten used to this trend for years and it has resulted in consistent success in Madison. Michigan State and Ohio State can boast about their Final Four appearances, but Wisconsin’s consistency is its hallmark trait that has resulted in Big Ten championships and its own share of postseason success.
Evaluating Last Year: The Badgers had their shot against top seeded Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen when the ball was in Jordan Taylor’s hands, their best player and most experienced veteran. Wisconsin fans couldn’t have asked for more than a shot to win that would have resulted in their second Elite Eight appearance in seven years. Ryan’s crew played their hearts out, as they challenged the 2-3 zone and hit 52% (14-27) from beyond the arc before falling short in a nail-biter. The chaotic last possession should not be used to judge their regular season by any means because the Badgers finished fourth in the B1G with a 12-6 record, just one game behind the co-champions. That level of performance along with another Sweet Sixteen appearance should definitely be considered a success for a team that could not find a consistent second scoring option after Jordan Taylor last year. Junior wing Ryan Evans averaged 11 points per game but couldn’t consistently deliver during the clutch when opposing teams double-teamed Taylor. Despite those limited scoring options, Wisconsin’s 2011-12 campaign was definitely a success.
State of the Program: Bo Ryan has given Badger fans a taste of success in various ways during his career in Madison – home winning streaks, Big Ten championships, Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight appearances. The only accomplishment left on the table is a Final Four appearance. In order to reach a Final Four, Ryan will need at least two players to catch fire offensively during March. When he had two legitimate scorers such as Taylor and John Leuer, the latter went cold in the postseason. Back in 2007, when the Badgers were a #2 seed heading into the Tournament, Brian Butch was injured which created a hole in their scoring punch once again. Despite the personnel ups and downs, Ryan holds his players accountable to outcomes every season and they deliver. Without their ongoing dedication to the system, they couldn’t have strung together a string of postseason appearances to be in the top echelon of B1G basketball each season. It is only a matter of time before that discipline and dedication will transfer to a Final Four, but regardless, Wisconsin is one of the best programs in the Big Ten and in the country since Ryan’s arrival.
Players Not Returning: Senior guard Jordan Taylor was destined to play for Bo Ryan. At 6’1″, 195 lbs, he didn’t have the physical stature to be highly recruited by major programs so he often played with chip on his shoulder at all times. His leadership and consistency will be missed in Madison. Whether it was by beating #1 ranked Ohio State at home on national television or leading the Badgers to consecutive Sweet Sixteens, Taylor was one of the best players during Ryan’s regime since Devin Harris. Not only could Taylor beat you from deep (37% 3FG), but he attacked the rim consistently with a 41.6% free throw rate. Badger fans could always count on him to dig the team out of trouble and he didn’t disappoint them.
Immediate Needs: As mentioned above, Wisconsin struggled to find a consistent scoring option in addition to Taylor. Ryan Evans stepped up during home games and Jared Berggren would catch on fire from deep (37% 3FG) during certain games but they were not consistent. It is a known fact that Ryan’s teams play great defense — they were third in the B1G last season allowing only 0.96 points per possession. But the 2012-13 Badger team needs scoring options and more than one guy to step up. They experienced a significant drop in their offensive efficiency from 2010-11 (1.19 points per possession) to 2011-12 (1.03 points per possession). As a result, Ryan may look to be more creative with his offensive schemes next season in order to improve the efficiency.
Key Player(s) to step up: Evans could have his best offensive season as a senior but the biggest scoring threat in 2012-13 may be the highly touted freshman, Sam Dekker. Dekker is a 6’8″ wing who was rated as a top 20 recruit by Rivals in 2012. His offensive game will include great ball-handling and good shooting from practically anywhere on the floor. The best attribute of Dekker will be his attitude and motivation — he has made it clear that wants to be part of the Wisconsin system. Brian Butch was the last McDonald’s All-American who committed to Ryan and he helped them secure a #2 seed in the NCAAs by the time he was done. Dekker comes in ready for the college game and will fit in perfectly with the swing offense. At 215 lbs., he doesn’t have the size yet to be dominant inside, but Ryan is a magician who maximizes his players’ talents with his schemes. Look for Dekker and Evans to cause issues to opposing offenses due to their versatility and ability to shoot the mid-range jumper. Berggren’s return helps the offense because he can hit the deep shot and feed the post to Dekker or Evans. As far as point guard duties go, it’ll be led by a committee of Josh Gasser and Ben Brust whose main responsibility will be limit the turnovers.
Conclusion: Never discount a Bo Ryan-coached team. He is one of the best in the business at developing his players and instilling confidence in them to step up when other key players leave the program. As a result, Badger fans know and expects Ryan Evans to deliver next season and Sam Dekker is a reward for Ryan’s consistency over the past two seasons. Their offensive limitations might look bad on paper going into the season but they will find a way to compete for the Big Ten championship. Everybody that follows Big Ten basketball knows better than to write them off.