Jordan Taylor left Wisconsin without a Big Ten title, an achievement the talented guard coveted and one that has eluded the UW program since 2007-08. Taylor, who started 87 games and played in 136 over four seasons, never experienced an NCAA Regional Final. Yet despite that disappointment, Taylor believes that UW, which has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons under Bo Ryan, is poised for greater success. Can UW end its Big Ten title drought and make a deeper NCAA Tournament run in 2013? The Badgers should field a deep and veteran frontcourt, two experienced guards and several new faces who could contribute immediately.
Center Jared Berggren and forwards Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz are back for their senior seasons after each started all 36 games last year. Berggren and Evans made huge jumps as juniors, particularly on offense. Berggren showed the inside-outside game the staff envisioned and improved his scoring average from 2.4 points per game as a sophomore to 10.5 as a junior. Evans increased his scoring average from 2.8 to 11.0 and his field goal shooting from 31.1 to 44.0 percent. His No. 1 goal this season is to improve his three-point shooting (26.3 percent). Bruesewitz provides defense, rebounds and hustle plays. However, his offense went south last season. If he relaxes, his shots should fall more consistently.
Despite that experience, expect 6-8, 215-pound freshman forward Sam Dekker to vie for a starting spot. Dekker can drive and finish, has a knack for hitting big three-pointers and is an outstanding passer with tremendous vision.
The likely candidate to handle the duties at point guard is junior Josh Gasser, with sophomore Traevon Jackson vying to get spot minutes. During practice, Marshall proved to be a tenacious defender and showed the ability to penetrate off the dribble to set up a teammate or get open for a mid-range jumper. Gasser, who has a combined 66 starts in two seasons, is a lockdown defender and capable facilitator, with a career 1.95 assist to- turnover ratio. He also shot 45.2 percent from three-point range last season but had only the fourth-most 3-point attempts on the team. He needs to look for his shot more often.
Redshirt freshman George Marshall will battle for the starting point guard spot. Freshman forward Sam Dekker, a member of the USA U18 National Team, is good enough to be in the running for league Freshman of the Year honors. Zach Bohannon, a transfer from Air Force who sat out last season, should be the fourth forward. Look for freshman guard Zak Showalter to compete for backup minutes.
Last season, without a consistent post presence and too few players capable of getting into the lane, Wisconsin depended too heavily on three-point shooting (21.5 attempts per game). That resulted in scoring droughts and too few foul shots. With Berggren more confident overall and with the addition of players such as Marshall and Dekker, Wisconsin should be a more versatile offensive team this season. The Badgers will always defend hard and take care of the ball. A more diverse offense could lead to a Big Ten title.