In the sixth and final edition of “Year of the Badger”, we take a look at a bona fide national championship contender: Bo Ryan and the men’s basketball team.
Despite being one of the most consistent teams in the entire country throughout Bo Ryan’s tenure, the Wisconsin Badgers rarely come into the season with high expectations. They are almost a lock to make the Big Dance every year, yet are almost never thought of as a serious threat to win the whole thing.
But after last year’s memorable Final Four run, the Badgers will enter the 2014-15 campaign as the favorite to win the Big Ten and will almost certainly be ranked in the top five to start the season.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering that Wisconsin brings all of its starters back from last year, besides Ben Brust.
Ryan’s starting five will likely be Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig, with Nigel Hayes and Duje Dukan coming off the bench to complete what will be one of the most formidable seven-man rotations in all of college basketball. That doesn’t even include redshirt freshman guard Riley Dearring, who could also be a solid contributor off the bench.
Kaminsky and Dekker both elected to return to Madison rather than enter the NBA draft, and are both legitimate candidates to win the Naismith Trophy.
After averaging 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year, Dekker looks poised to have a tremendous junior season, especially after impressing everyone recently at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas.
Sam Dekker has consistently been the best player here through two days.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) July 10, 2014
Sam Dekker is pretty good. Knows a lot. Does a lot. #LeBronJamesSkillsAcademy
— Coach John Lucas (@CoachJohnLucas1) July 10, 2014
All these young high school players need to be watching 6'9" Sam Dekker's work ethic in all these drills! Excellent footwork! He grinds!!
— Joey_Velasquez (@HoopsWhisperer) July 9, 2014
Meanwhile, Kaminsky, who led the team in scoring with 13.9 points per game last season, looks to build off his sensational performance in the NCAA tournament.
While these two are undoubtedly the best players on the Badgers, it’s the team’s depth and experience that makes them a true threat to contend for a national title.
In today’s college basketball landscape, where many teams lose players early to the draft on an annual basis, having a solid core of players that have experienced a run to the Final Four is a rarity, so Wisconsin has a step on much of its competition in that regard.
Of course, nothing is a guarantee in the world of college sports, especially when a program that’s isn’t used to being a championship contender suddenly finds itself squarely in the national spotlight. However, Bo Ryan is no stranger to postseason success (he won four national titles at Division III UW-Platteville), and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t get the most out of arguably the best team he’s had since arriving in Madison.
If the Badgers are able to tap into their full potential this season, we could very well see them capture the program’s first national championship since 1941.