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The 2012-13 Badgers made an incredible run to the championship game of the Big Ten tournament, but got tripped up by Marshall Henderson and the hot-shooting Ole Miss Rebels in the Big Dance. How does your fan base feel about last year's results?
As you might expect, the upset at the hands of Ole Miss soured what could have been a very satisfying end to the season. And this just in ... Marshall Henderson is still a punk. If it weren't for the Landshark, the Rebs might have actually won that game by 20. Wisconsin was riding fairly high after its back-to-back dismantling of Michigan and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, before falling to Ohio State in the final. The offense was clicking, Ryan Evans was making shots, life was good.
Coming in, I expected the team to have a rollercoaster ride of a season due to an inexperienced backcourt missing Josh Gasser and the offensively challenged frontline. That is exactly what we got. The low points were really painful: home losses to Virginia and Purdue; one of the ugliest games I've ever seen led to another sweep by Michigan State; getting blown out of the gate by Florida, but also then by Iowa on the road (before a crazy near-comeback). The aforementioned conference tourney run was just one of several highlights. The Badgers actually swept Michigan and Indiana, taking down both Top 5 teams in spectacular fashion in the regular season, earned a split with Ohio State, and played four overtime periods in the span of three games (winning two).
What's the biggest piece you've lost since last season?
We tend to view the three graduated frontcourt players as a single unit, but center Jared Berggren was the biggest single loss. He left Wisconsin as the school's all-time shotblocker and finished a close second on the team last year in both scoring (11.0) and rebounding (6.9). Berggren regressed as a 3-point shooter, but brought the fewest negatives to the table. He even made a couple clutch dunks that saved a few games for UW. Thanks to his underrated athleticism, Berggren really anchored one of the best Bo Ryan defenses ever. That is saying something.
Who is the player who needs to step up the most this year?
Junior pivot Frank Kaminsky will clearly be under the microscope all season long. Approaching 7-footer status, Kaminsky has shown decent flashes in a limited role, especially last season, and worked hard to improve his conditioning last year. However, he has never been a very strong rebounder on either end and that is the glaring weakness of this Badger team on paper right now. Of course, Kaminsky is one of those late growth spurt guys who possess pretty decent passing and long-distance shooting skills to compensate. Expectations are super high for Sam Dekker in his second season and the two freshmen bigs (Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown) must be able to provide quality minutes around him, but Frank the Tank has the biggest shoes to fill.
Who is the player UVa fans ought to look out for the most?
Dekker is the easy choice. As mentioned, his defense is a work in progress, but his offensive skills are way ahead of the other Badgers. He is a dead-eye 3-point shooter (39% as a freshman), but his biggest strength might just be his ability to understand court spacing and cut to an opening at just the right moment. Dekker has a knack for those "sixth sense" type of passes, which I think people are hoping to see more of now that the offense will run through him a bit more. At any rate, he has looked much more aggressive in the preseason. If you are looking for weaknesses, Dekker still isn't a great one-on-one, dribble-drive guy. Developing a nice pull-up midrange jumper would make him really hard to stop.
What's your outlook for the season? What's a success, what's a failure, and what's something you can live with?
Unlike Kentucky or Duke or Kansas, which reload for championships, Wisconsin is in a pattern where it reloads for conference contention and a Sweet 16. This season is no different, as I feel 25 wins would be great and attainable. Three postseason wins (B1G + NCAA) would cap another successful year.
At this point, failure would mean finishing lower than fourth in the Big Ten, which has never happened under Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has never missed the NCAA tournament under Ryan either. Missing the NCAAs is seemingly out of the question and would be unacceptable. The first streak could be in doubt only because of how strong the league is again. I could live with that, even though it would be a failure to many.