Now that the bars have finally cleared out and the sports talk radio shows are half way finished over analyzing the Wisconsin loss to Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA Final Four semi-final, 74-73 thriller, attention is now turning to the 2014-15 season and a return trip to the Big Dance for the Badgers, this time in Indianapolis.
Whoa Nelly! Hold on a minute, Traevon Jackson hasn't finished turning the ball over just yet, and already Bleacher Report has deemed Bo Ryan's bunch as a preseason Number 1? The Badgers deep tournament run illustrated the benefits of four year players in your team's program, and Wisconsin is only losing one of those from this year's 30-8 squad, senior sharpshooter and rebounder extraordinaire, Ben Brust.
That leaves the venerable Bo Ryan with Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, the aforementioned Jackson and everyone's favorite 7-footer, Frank Kaminsky, as his returning starters. Add to that mix the BIG10 sixth man of the year and all freshmen first team Nigel Hayes, plus point guard Bronson Koenig, who staked the Badgers to a 40-36 first half lead over the Wildcats with is shooting and passing, (while Jackson was in foul trouble) and you have a potent nucleus returning. Don't forget about forward Duje Dukan either, who also contributed in a big way Saturday night In addition to the incoming freshman class, power forward Vitto Brown and guard Jordan Hill are also waiting in the wings. Dancing With The Stars contestant Evan Anderson relinquished his senior season scholarship and thus his role as Ryan's Human Victory Cigar, so Bo even has that as an extra carrot to offer any aspiring future Badger.
But wait, there's more. In reality, it might not be all seashells and balloons at the Kohl Center practice facility this off season. Koenig's deft passing skills and offensive firepower create a dilemma of sorts for Ryan. A Wisconsin product, Koenig grew up in Lacrosse, the former home to the Old Style beer brewing company. His game, however, is anything but old style. Koenig played AAU ball with Dekker too and the chemistry is obvious. The problem lies with Jackson, a converted point guard who took Badger fans on a roller coaster ride called Love Him or Hate Him this past year, nailing game winning shots like the one against MSU just as easily as he could dribble the ball off his leg in the last two minutes against Kentucky.
One would think an obvious starting five, should they remain healthy, would consist of Kaminsky, Hayes, Dekker, Gasser and Jackson, right? Not so fast Bucky, because there is enough evidence now to point to Koenig as the true leader on the horizon, with Jackson having to accept the 6th man role as a shooting guard, where he could continue to hoist game winning attempts at Ryan's request, even though as fans, and opposing coach's know all too well, that's what he's expected to do at crunch time.
Knowing Ryan's penchant for starting the same five players game in and game out, he might stick with the senior Jackson as the starter and bring Koenig off the bench, unless he continues to feature Hayes in that role, therefore switching Koenig for Brust. That might well be the final solution, but given the fact that the Badger Achilles Heel this past year was clearly a lack of defensive stoppers inside, one has to wonder how Bo would tweak his defense, and he certainly won't play zone, we all are aware of that.
So Badger fans, before you order your final Four tickets for 2015, feel free to revel in the optimism of what is shaping up to be one of the best returning classes ever for Wisconsin Basketball. On the flip side, you may want to guard that optimism just a little bit, especially where Traevon Jackson's role is concerned.
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