Wisconsin basketball has some holes to fill
MADISON Entering his 41st year of coaching, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he doesn’t get nervous, alarmed or excited when people use the word “replace” when referring to his basketball team.
“It is amazing how young men step up,” Ryan said. “I have all the faith in the world that that is going to happen with this group.”
They are going to have to: The 23rd-ranked Badgers do have some holes to fill.
Although Wisconsin returns 12 of 14 lettermen from last season, the Badgers lost senior All-American point guard Jordan Taylor and recently learned that his replacement, Josh Gasser, will miss the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Gasser has started 66 games for the Badgers in his first two seasons, averaging 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He averaged 34.1 minutes last season, contributing 7.6 points per game and shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point range.
The injury is another blow to Wisconsin’s depth, as the Badgers are expecting to start the season without forward Mike Bruesewitz. He is expected to be back sometime in November after cutting his leg on the basket support, an injury that required more than four dozen stitches.
“It was really unfortunate what happened to me, but the outcome of this is very fortunate,” said Bruesewitz. “There are guys who have drop footed, can’t walk for two years and have to give up basketball because they don’t have control of their foot. I missed that nerve and was very fortunate.”
Gasser was expected to be the team’s starting point guard, a role that, for the time being, will be shared among junior Ben Brust, sophomore Traevon Jackson and redshirt freshman George Marshall, who earned high praise from the Wisconsin coaching staff after competing with Taylor on the scout team last season.
“George understood as quickly as any other redshirt freshman we had that last year wasn’t about taking a break,” said associate head coach Greg Gard. “He’s maximized his opportunity to use Jordan as a teacher as much as possible. He approached every practice like it was his game day, and he bought into that. That will help him.”
Wisconsin will have three seniors—Jared Berggren, Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans—in the paint who have a combined 285 games played and 122 starts. That’s given the Badgers some optimism after finishing 26-10 last season, which included a run to the Sweet 16.
“What you always hope for as a team is that you’re so well blended that they can’t zero in on one or two players and that’s what I like about this mix right now,” said Ryan. “We have guys that could play well every night and be really good.”
Evans was second on the team in points (11.0 per game) while Berggren tied for the conference lead in blocks with 60, adding 10.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. In the mix will be sophomore Frank Kaminsky (appeared in 35 games as a freshman), junior transfer Zach Bohannon and highly-touted freshman Sam Dekker, who averaged 32.5 points and 13.2 rebounds as a high school senior.
That combination should help a Wisconsin team that led the nation in scoring defense last season—allowing just 53.2 points per game—to be even stingier.
“We have a lot of people that could come off the bench and give us energy at any point in any game,” said Kaminsky. “I have a lot of confidence in this team that anyone can step up and be effective in any game.”
The schedule includes 18 games against teams that participated in the postseason a year ago. The season opener is Nov. 11 against Southeastern Louisiana. The Badgers host UW-Oshkosh in an exhibition tonight.
“We know what we need to do and we know what is expected, having been through it in practice,” said Brust. “We now have to go out there and grab it.”