This season is championship or bust for the Wisconsin Badgers. National championship.
Big Dumb Idiotic Realigned Conference titles are nice, but this year Bo Ryan’s team should move that over to the “Expectations” column. 2014-15 is all about what happens in March.
Whoah, the Marquette diehard is saying the Badgers are going to be great this year.
Yes, but there’s a catch. If Bucky doesn’t cut down the nets in March, that will dash any realistic hope of ever doing so under Bo Ryan. In other words, this is the best Badger team you will probably ever see, and if they aren’t good enough to win a National Championship, that puts a serious limitation on what the program should be expected to do going forward.
Last year’s team went to the Final Four, and rightfully so. They were genuinely one of the best few teams in the nation. And, rightfully so, they were defeated by a youthful Kentucky team that was just too big, strong, and athletic (well and Bo decided to just not coach on the last possession). That team got that far by having a talented group of players highlighted by a few stars playing together in a system that, despite its limitations, achieves results.
This year’s team returns even stronger. With Ben Brust being the only real loss from last year (a very replaceable loss) the Badgers return a more experienced team. Basically, the Badgers’ system has hit the jackpot, combining their successful style of play with star-power. Just having Sam Dekker would be nice, but they also have one of the most unstoppable offensive weapons in the nation in Frank Kaminsky. Add onto that BIG Freshman of the Year Nigel Hayes and the potential of Bronson Koenig and you’ve got as talented a team as the Badgers have ever fielded. Even the supporting cast is solid. And it’s not just a collection of talent; it’s a collection of talent with experience playing with each other in an organized system. Dekker and Kaminsky probably could have both gone pro but both of them returned.
So yes, it is in fact about as great a Badger team as you could hope for, and that’s exactly why this year is make or break for them. If Bo Ryan can’t win a National Championship with this team, he’s not going to win a National Championship. Wisconsin doesn’t have the recruiting strength to do it, especially while having to battle Marquette for the top in-state recruits. Think about it: of the five star in-state recruits in the past five or so years, Wisconsin has gotten just Dekker, missing out on Vander Blue, Kevon Looney, Henry Ellenson, and possibly Diamond Stone (with Blue and Ellenson both choosing rival Marquette). Marquette also has had recent success with Milwaukee recruits, and has had strong ties to Chicago (although those may disappear after Assistant Isaac Chew followed Buzz to VT). Basically, Wisconsin doesn’t have the ability to recruit stars on a yearly basis. No matter what they do, they won’t have a team as talented as Kentucky.
So you see now how much an over-achievement this Wisconsin team is? Not only did they hit home runs with Dekker and Kaminsky, but all the rotation guys are solid as well. They’re not trotting out classic Badgers like Bergren and Brusewitz; these are legit ballers. And that’s rare for a program that normally looks more…. Wisconsinny.
For the sake of the Badger faithful I hope Bo Ryan doesn’t get in the way of this team. I’m not convinced they can make it through March unless he unleashes Dekker and Kaminsky and lets them carry much more weight so that when the team really needs them they’ll be ready to step up. We’ve seen in the past few years how critical star players are to advancing in the Tournament (Kemba, Gordon Hayward, Anthony Davis, Shabazz, etc). The key was those stars were allowed to play like stars. Louiseville from 2012-13 should actually be a model for Wisconsin to follow. They played within a disciplined system in which a collection of talented players did their part, but Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were still the best players on the court and played like it. There’s a difference between rolling out the balls and drawing intentional gameplans. Bo can design more isolations without devolving into hero ball. If Dekker is as good as you people say he is (and I think he probably is) then Bo Ryan would be out of his mind to not make him a 15-20 ppg scorer. Dekker and Kaminsky should combine for at least 40 per game, no questions asked.
This is it for the Wisconsin Badgers. If they make good on their potential and win it all this year, then they’re suddenly a top program in the nation with increased recruiting influence. If they stumble and fall short of at least the Final Four then they’ll remain a solid program aspirations of conference titles but no real prospects of winning it all.
Maybe they won’t get Mr. Stone, but the pressure they face this year could create a diamond of their own.
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Soli Deo Gloria