08-09 Overall Record: 20-13
08-09 Conference Record: 10-8 (T-4th)
09-09 Conference Efficiency Margin: +0.08 (2nd)
Percent of Returning Minutes: 65.2
Percent of Returning Freshman Minutes: 8.2
Of all the previews we've had, this one has to be the most boring to write. And that's not a slam on Wisconsin -- it's praise. Bo Ryan's management of the program all but ensures an effective and consistent team every single year. You could read last year's preview (go ahead, read it), and it would probably give you a pretty good sense of how the Badgers will fare this season. The formula for Wisconsin's success is pretty simple -- recruiting.
That sounds strange to say about a team that doesn't typically reel in McDonald's All-Americans. But there's more than one way to skin a cat (another expression I hate. I mean, is there really some cat-skinning expert out there dispensing knowledge of his trade?). And Ryan's way has been to "balance" his classes. Every year, about 2/3 of the minutes return, and he always seems to have a couple of seniors capable of shouldering a heavy load. Three years ago, it was Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker. Two years ago it was Brian Butch and Michael Flowers. Last year, it was Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft. This year, it will be Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. Next year, it will be Jon Leuer and maybe Keaton Nankivil.
So does that mean that we stop there, figure Wisconsin finishes in the top half of the conference, goes dancing, and call it a day? We could, but Badger fans have to read something (especially now that they've all unsubscribed from Vander Blue's Twitter), so we'll give them some good news/bad news analysis.
First, the good news -- offensively, this team should be every bit as strong as they were last season. Sure, losing their best offensive player is a blow, but there are a lot of pieces in waiting. For one, Leuer and Hughes are fully capable of taking a "go-to" amount of shots, so you probably won't see a lot of "desperation possessions" in Madison. Second, guys like Bohannon and Nankivil are very efficient players (so is Tim Jarmusz, who would be downright scary if he somehow were able to keep his efficiency while increasing his shots). Third, although the freshmen didn't play a lot of minutes last season, it was a big class, and it's reasonable to believe that someone could have a big breakout. Add it all up, and Wisconsin should not have difficulties on offense.
Then there's the bad news -- defense. Ryan's defensive philosophy has been to let the other side take shots, but do not let them get more than one per possession. Last year the Badgers were 4th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. They won't be that good this season. Part of that is simply because it's hard to repeat elite performances like that, but the bigger reason is that they lose a tremendous rebounder in Joe Krabbenhoft. In conference play, Krabbenhoft was the second-best defensive rebounder, behind Goran Suton. The next best Badger, Leuer, ranked 18th in the conference. After Leuer, the highest returning Badger was Jason Bohannon. I submit that when Jason Bohannon is the second best returning defensive rebounder, there's reason for concern.
The guys most likely to fill Krabbenhoft's minutes (Nankivil, Jarmusz), were not impressive rebounders on the defensive end of the floor. Of course, these things could change. After all, Leuer was a terrible rebounder in his freshman season, and he was decent in that area last year. Furthermore, guys like Ian Markoff and Jared Berggren might be monster rebounders that haven't had a chance to show their abilities yet. All these things, however, are conjecture. Here's what we do know -- Wisconsin was a great rebounding team last year, and they do not return a lot of those rebounds. Expect them to take a step back, but I still anticipate that rebounding will be an overall strength. The good news is that the additions of Markoff and Berggren to the rotation will make Wisconsin taller, which should result in more missed shots.
So that's it folks, 11 season recaps and previews to chew on. As we've been alluding to, the Big Ten should be very good this season. We've still got a lot of ground to cover before the season begins - a Preseason All Big Ten, a list of Breakout players, a look at the nonconference slate, and our predictions on the season are still yet to come. We'll be back Monday.