November 8, 2007

Big Ten Basketball Preview - Wisconsin

I'll be honest, there probably isn't a team in the Big Ten that I respect more than the Badgers AND there isn't a team in the Big Ten I'd rather see be the first to go 0-18. I was a big fan of Dick Bennett and have been impressed with how Bo Ryan has continued incredible success while never landing top 5 recruiting classes.

After a 30 win season the Badgers have lost their starting PG and their All-American forward Alando Tucker. These seem like losses too big to overcome but the Badgers have plenty of talent waiting and ready to keep the current run of success going.

Bo Ryan's "Swing Offense" has been very effective and hard for Big Ten teams to defend. Most other offensive systems have strengths that they force you to defend, they then just plan on executing better than you can defend. The Swing Offense seems to find your defensive weakness and exploit that to it's fullest. His teams always value smart players over Rivals star rankings. Of course having NBA talent on your roster who are also savvy basketball players is a bonus and why this team won 30 games a year ago. Gone is the 1st round talent, but the roster is full of size, experience and the unquantifiable basketball saviness.

PG - Trevon Hughes - Hughest might be the key to just how successful the Badgers will be. If the sophomore can handle the PG duties that will allow Flowers to be the scoring guard that he is. He is very quick and has good ball handling skills but whether or not he can handle going from just over 7 min to 24+ will be a very important question to be answered.

SG - Michael Flowers - the senior and leader of this Badger team earned his stripes as a top-notch defender. But last season Flowers began to show his offensive skill set. He is a proven shooter but whether or not he can penetrate and score remains to be seen. Count on Flowers to be an All-Big Ten selection in his senior season.

SF - Joe Krabbenhoft - Michigan State coach, Tom Izzo says that Krabbenhoft is ''one of those players who can do everything well, and they're hard to find.'' It is always nice to get compliments from your coach, but when another coach gives that kind of praise that should really boost your confidence. For a player who does everything well he is going to have to take it another step this year. Joe will need to improve his game and take on more responsibility this season to contribute to another run to the NCAA Tourney for Wisconsin.

PF - Marcus Landry - yet another very talented kid who is stepping into the limelight for the first time. This junior is very gifted who can shoot the 3 and play inside as he led the team in blocks. Landry could become the team's most talented player who scares defenses, if not he'll still be a player that the Badgers will use to exploit an opponents weakness.

C - -Brian Butch - Nobody would have guessed it going into the season but Butch was the key to their entire season. Of course the loss of Taylor or Tucker would have ended their season abruptly, but the loss of Butch down the stretch led to a 2nd round upset at the hands of UNLV. Wisconsin fans will tell you the Final Four was a certainty had Butch been healthy. That was last year and Butch is back. The senior center should combo with Flowers to be a top inside-out duo. Butch will have to answer 2 important questions. 1-can he stay healthy? 2-Can he carry the load without true stars absorbing the defensive focus?

Key Bench - Greg Stiemsma - senior big man who will probably start some games when Ryan want to go with more size upfront. Stiemsma is one of the best big men off the bench in the league.
Key Bench - Brian Bohannon - sophomore scoring guard who could be primed for a big year. With Taylor and Tucker gone there are more shots to go around and Bohannon could really take some of the perimeter scoring load off Flowers' back.
Key Bench - Keaton Nankivil - a big and physically mature freshman PF who likely will get his chance to play in this frontcourt full of skilled big men.
Key Bench - John Leuer - a skilled 6'10" freshman from Minnesota who figures to help the Badgers this season. Led all scorers in the Badgers exhibition win over Edgewood College.

Prediction - I'm sure there will be more guys who contribute on a regular basis for the Badgers but those first 7 appear to be the ones who will carry the biggest load.

It comes down to this, it is a bad idea to pick against Bo Ryan. He has a team of smart basketball players are also very skilled. You have a handful of good shooters in the front and backcourt. He has size and he has experience. They lost 3 starters but they returned everyone else.

I expect slight improvement from everybody on the roster and a bigger step forward from Landry and Bohannon. They will be hard to guard with a roster that will get balanced scoring from any number of sources and coaches in the Big Ten know just how hard it is to score on the Badgers defense.

The consensus seems to be that Wisconsin will finish about 4th in the Big Ten. I hate to do it but they are my pick to finish 1st in the regular season. With unbalanced schedule they only play Ohio State and Michigan State once. So of the 6 potential games against the other top teams (Ind, MSU, OSU) they dump 2 of them. I see a 14-4 finish and 1st place.

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