Next up in our preview series, Wisconsin. For this preview we interviewed Phil from over at Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
I always say that it’s impossible to pick against Wisconsin in this league. Is there any reason to think differently this year?
In a word, no. Last year’s starting backcourt was very experienced, yet streaky — both offensively and defensively. This year’s team should feature a number of versatile pieces to mix and match around stars Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor. Leuer is an offensive force of the same magnitude as Alando Tucker. A third scorer will need to emerge, but the track record of the head coach is no mystery.
Obviously Trevon Hughes is a huge loss as he had the knack for making big shots and was one of the best guards in the conference. That being said, Jordan Taylor looked very good last year. What are your thoughts on Taylor? Is he ready to be the go to guy for Bo Ryan?
The transition at point guard from Hughes to his successor actually took place last season, when Taylor stayed in the starting lineup after Leuer’s return. Even before that, Taylor proved his mettle in three-guard sets, distributing the rock while Hughes roamed off the ball. Taylor is already a better decision-maker than Hughes (3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) and even strapped the team on his back offensively against Penn State last year. He’s ready.
Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor
Jon Leuer is one of those inside-outside big men that are so popular in college basketball right now. He is extremely skilled offensively but is also a great rebounder and can hold his own in the post. How would you compare him to guys like Robbie Hummel and John Shurna?
At 6’10”, Leuer is certainly a bigger threat on the blocks than the other two guys you mention. Leuer possesses an arsenal of post moves that includes an unstoppable baseline turnaround. This makes him the most efficient scorer of the the three. Like Hummel and Shurna, he takes care of the ball with a good handle for his size and can step out to shoot threes. I’d actually like to see Leuer get after more rebounds, but he has to avoid foul trouble. When I think of Hummel, I think versatility. He’s really a super-skilled “glue guy” when healthy. Shurna is the best pure shooter of the bunch and is long like Leuer.
The Badgers attempted significantly more three point shots last year than we are used to seeing under Bo Ryan. Should we expect to see more of the same or will we see more traditional Bo Ryan offense now that Bohanon and Hughes have graduated?
The increase in long-distance shot attempts has definitely gained some notoriety among fans the past couple years. You are probably right to assume a return to a more traditional Bo Ryan approach this season, given the depth they will have in the front court combined with the inexperience at guard. I’m at least hoping to manufacture some easier buckets. My guess is the change starts with increased playing time for junior guard Rob Wilson, who knows how to post up and has an aggressive offensive approach.
If Taylor or Leuer aren’t taking shots for Wisconsin who is it going to be? Give me a someone in the backcourt and the frontcourt that will take on a much larger role this year.
Like I said, Wilson has the profile to be that guy out of the backcourt. He’s paid his dues and got a lot of experience in the heart of the conference schedule when Leuer was out. Up front, I think 6’10” redshirt sophomore Jared Berggren could be an option in relief of Leuer. Berggren’s role will be much larger since he didn’t really have any impact last season. It turns out he wasn’t healthy. You will definitely hear more from Ryan Evans too — albeit without his flat top.
What are the highlights of Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule this year? Any early season tournaments or marquee games?
After opening with two patsies, playing UNLV in Vegas could be a stiff test. The gem of the non-conference slate is the I-94 rivalry with Marquette renewal on Dec. 11 in Milwaukee. Wisconsin is playing in the Old Spice Classic during Thanksgiving as well, where the Badgers open with Manhattan, but hope to get a couple decent games against Boston College, Cal, Notre Dame, Georgia or Texas A&M. Luckily for season-ticket holders, Wisconsin gets a home game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Record prediction? Conference and overall.
I see a 23-7 regular season, including 13-5 in conference. That should be good enough for another top-four finish. Give ’em a 1-1 record in both the conference and NCAA tournaments for a final tally of 25-9.
Most feared player in the conference?
Tough one. But when Demetri McCamey’s outside shot is falling, he’s a monster. He’s ballsy, a bull with the rock and runs the pick-and-roll with Mike Tisdale to perfection (at least against the Badgers). His inconsistency is what holds him back. On the other hand, I am not excited to run into Kalin Lucas or Jared Sullinger either.
Projected most improved player in the conference?
Rodney Williams is probably the trendy pick because of his raw talent, but I’ll be watching another Gopher, Devoe Joseph, who really came on toward the end of last year. Two other darkhorses: Michigan’s Darius Morris (if he can cut down on TOs) and Purdue’s Patrick Bade (Johnson needs some help up front).
Projected conference champs?
Gotta go with Michigan State, in light of the Robbie Hummel tragedy. Even though I haven’t liked the vibe coming out of East Lansing this off season, I suspect the Spartans will circle the wagons under Izzo. They have too much talent.
Toughest place to play in the Big Ten?
The logical answer is Michigan State’s Breslin Center, followed by Purdue’s Mackey Arena. Those two programs have been among the league’s best for several years. Wisconsin hasn’t won at Michigan State since 2004 and lost five of six in West Lafayette.
Do you think you win your Big Ten challenge game
I fully expect the Badgers to beat North Carolina State in the Challenge. The Wolfpack will be young and very talented, but you need more than that to come into the Kohl Center and win against a Bo Ryan-coached team.