The Wisconsin Badgers exceeded expectations last year, going 24-9 overall and finishing just one game out of a share for the Big Ten regular-season title at 13-5. Wisconsin however sputtered to get the job done in postseason play. After being knocked out in the opening round of the conference tournament, the fourth-seeded Badgers were eliminated from the postseason in the second round by Cornell. It was the third time in the last four years that the Badgers were taken out by a lower-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin lost senior guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes from last season, but once again think they have a real good chance to win the Big Ten title this year. Head coach Bo Ryan hasn’t allowed Wisconsin to finish worse than fourth in the Big Ten in nine seasons, but with the conference packed with talent this season, whether or not Wisconsin makes a run will turn on the improvement of some of its young players.
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Frontcourt: The Badgers return seven players who have seen the floor on the interior, and the most talented of the group is senior Jon Leuer, who averaged nearly 16 points and six boards a night last season. Leuer probably would have received first-team All-Big Ten honors last year if he hadn’t missed seven games with a wrist injury. Leuer is a difficult matchup with his power to score in the paint and nail the outside jumper, and could be ready for a standout year in 2010.
Seniors Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz also return to the starting lineup, but the pair needs to grow from last year. Jarmusz went from making 42% from deep to just under 30% last year, and will need to find his touch if he wants to keep starting. Junior Rob Wilson and sophomores Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, and Ryan Evans are extra bodies Wisconsin will have in the frontcourt.
Backcourt: How well this team replaces Bonannon and Hughes will go a long way in determining how good this team is this year. Junior Jordan Taylor is the most experienced guard on the team, and will be relied upon to have a big season this year. Taylor posted 10 points with just over three boards and assists a night, but will probably be required to put up closer to 16 a game this year.
Senior walk-on Wquinton Smith also started in the backcourt in Wisconsin’s first win over Prairie View A&M, but freshman Josh Gasser scored 21 points in 26 minutes, and could end up being the starter by the end of the year. Also seeing time will be freshman Ben Brust, who like Gasser, can play either guard spot.
Pick – 5th Big Ten: While it’s hard to ever go against Wisconsin, I just believe the conference is too packed with talent for the Badgers to come away with a conference title. Wisconsin will still be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but I have a hard time seeing this team making a deep run unless they get a lot of improvement from their returning players.
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