The 2013/14 college basketball season concluded just over two weeks ago. In case you’ve somehow forgotten, Wisconsin basketball was a jump shot away from a spot in the National Championship game.
This season was as exciting as any under Bo Ryan and for that reason we are taking a look at the 2014/15 season — which promises to be just as exciting.
Wisconsin worked its way up to being ranked No. 3 in the nation last year but the Badgers have a chance to begin next season ranked even higher than that. Don’t believe it? Take a glimpse at the facts. Wisconsin is returning seven of their eight top contributors from last season. A season in which they ended with a record of 30-8 and were No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Poll after the dust settled. All of that success came despite playing one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the country and having to navigate through the toughest conference of them all — the Big Ten.
The Badgers are losing gritty senior Ben Brust to graduation. He will go down as the top three-point shooter to ever grace the hardwood in Madison. But, his absence will help give sophomore-to-be Bronson Koenig more time on the court; which is something everyone is excited about. Many believe Koenig is the future of Badger basketball.
To put it simply…the Badgers are losing one player, Brust, but his replacement in the lineup next year, Koenig, is a much more explosive and polished player. He can do things on the court Brust never could. So next year the Badgers should be even better. And I’m inclined to think the preseason rankings will reflect that.
And I’m not the only one that feels the Badgers will be ranked so highly to begin the 2014/15 season.
Take a look at what the “experts” have to say in their ridiculously early top-5’s for next season:
CBS Sports: 1. Duke 2. Arizona 3. Wisconsin 4. Kansas 5. Kentucky
ESPN: 1. Arizona 2. Duke 3. Kentucky 4. Wisconsin 5. Wichita State
Sports Illustrated: 1. Duke 2. Wisconsin 3. Arizona 4. Villanova 5. North Carolina
USA Today Sports: 1. Duke 2. Arizona 3. Wisconsin 4. Kansas 5. Kentucky
As you can see, every major site has the Badgers sniffing the top spot in the country next year; but not quite there. I think the Badgers will climb higher before the season though. Why? Because I think people aren’t valuing their experience and time spent together as a team as much as they should — yet.
When the prognosticators take a step back from this season and look at what the Badgers are bringing back, with fresh eyes, I believe Bucky will get the respect it deserves.
The two teams consistently ahead of Wisconsin in these (somewhat arbitrary) early rankings are Duke and Arizona.
Duke is losing quite a bit, and yes I know they have a very strong recruiting class coming in, but look at who won’t be in Durham, NC next year. Their best player Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston.
Damn, that’s a lot.
That’s a lot of talent suddenly out of the lineup.
Let me remind you that Wisconsin is losing Ben Brust and only Ben Brust. Although, quick shout out to Zach Bohannon and Evan Anderson who are also leaving Madison. The Badgers are losing some quality teammates in those two guys but their contributions on the court won’t be missed. Not in the way the list of notable players, that both Duke and Arizona are losing, should impact their play.
Duke and Arizona are, seemingly, the only teams separating Wisconsin from the No. 1 ranking at the beginning of the 2014/15 season. And both are losing an incredible amount of talent. Both will be shuffling their lineups immensely, counting on freshmen and hoping they can gel together.
Wisconsin doesn’t have to gel. Wisconsin doesn’t have to count on players coming in over the Summer. Wisconsin isn’t losing its top players. Wisconsin already is the team that it will be; except better. The development of to-be sophomores Koenig and Nigel Hayes must be scaring the hell out of the rest of the Big Ten. Wisconsin has never, and I mean never, had two so amazingly-talented freshmen at the same time. Except next year…they won’t be freshmen. They’ll be seasoned, they’ll be down right dangerous.
Plus, the Badgers will be led by three starting seniors in Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser. That is something no other team being considered as a top-5 team can boast. Not to mention, Kaminsky will certainly be a candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year Award, as best player in the country, next season.
The Badgers can do it all; play in the post, shoot the three, run the court, play defense and can control the tempo. They have young players coming into their own meshing with the stoic seniors who are hungry after missing out on the 2014 National Championship Game by a jump shot. Oh and they’re led by a future Hall of Fame coach in Bo Ryan. If you think last year was a fluke, you don’t know basketball.
This team should be considered as a possibility for the No. 1 spot in the country when the first rankings drop next fall. Being ranked No. 1 in the preseason rankings doesn’t actually mean much but it would be a nice nod of respect to the most talented team Wisconsin has ever put out onto the court.
Because that’s what the 2014/15 squad will be. Get excited Bucky faithful; last year was the appetizer, next year is the main course.