20 Questions: Does Sam Dekker Make Wisconsin a Final Four Contender?Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2013
Semantics matter. And semantics makes this one a no-brainer, in so many ways. No, Sam Dekker does not make Wisconsin a Final Four contender. Now don’t get me wrong, Wisconsin may well indeed be a Final Four contender (a question I’ll get to later), but if so, it is not solely due to Dekker. First and foremost, basketball is a team sport that requires five competent players on the court playing well together. And even in the best of cases, one superstar coupled with four, well, schmucks, does not make for a Final Four team, no matter how good that superstar is. And at a place like Wisconsin with a coach like Bo Ryan, this goes double. Under Ryan’s swing offense, the Badgers are going to run sound fundamental offensive basketball, coupled with hard-nosed stingy defense on the other end of the court, and they are going to take what the opponent gives them. Sometimes that will mean Dekker will be able to have big nights, but on other occasions, Wisconsin is going to need big contributions elsewhere. Even if Dekker has the best year in the history of Wisconsin basketball, the Badgers will still need some help.
The second thought about this question, even taking away the nitpicking first paragraph of my answer is this: What has Sam Dekker done so far to deserve anything approaching a “yes” answer here? I like Dekker’s game and I know damn well that one of the things that makes Ryan such a successful coach is his ability to get players to improve from year to year. So I fully expect him to significantly better his 9.6 point and 3.4 rebound per game averages from his freshman campaign. And clearly with Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren all gone from the Wisconsin front line, there is going to plenty of room for Dekker to pile up minutes and crank up the production. But the fact that those three seniors have graduated means this team is less likely to compete for a Final Four this season than last, a year in which, I might remind you, the Badgers got knocked out in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament. Even if Dekker goes out and averages something like the 19.4 points per game he dropped in Wisconsin’s summer trip to Canada (a nightly average which would be the best year out of a Wisconsin player since Alando Tucker won the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2007), he’s still going to need plenty of scoring help from the returning backcourt of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson, along with Josh Gasser, who returns from a season lost to an ACL tear. And frankly, while we can expect Dekker to improve, can we really expect him as a sophomore to be as good or better than guys like Tucker or Jon Leuer were as seniors? I think not.
One last point to put this question to bed for good: In a conference where Michigan State is regarded almost universally as a national top five team and where Ohio State and Michigan are perhaps in the next group of teams with a chance to surprise and sneak their way into a Final Four, why would we expect a work-in-progress Wisconsin team to achieve the type of success that recent and more finished products in Madison had not? Really, Wisconsin in 2011 with Leuer as a senior and Jordan Taylor having the best year of his career, along with a solid cast of supporting characters, flamed out in the Sweet Sixteen. In 2008, Trevon Hughes, Brian Butch and Marcus Landry led the Badgers to a 31-5 record and a 17-point Sweet Sixteen loss to Steph Curry and Davidson. The year prior, it was Tucker and Kammron Taylor who led the team to a 30-6 record and a first weekend NCAA defeat. But somehow, we’re supposed to expect this Wisconsin team with plenty of questions to be answered, in what is considered a very strong year across the nation, to step up and finally get Bo Ryan to a Final Four? Yeah, consider me very skeptical on all fronts.