Preview: Earning Some Respect

Even with losing two senior guards that were battle tested, Wisconsin basketball turns a wealth of talent and skill in the frontcourt. With a group led by senior Jon Leuer expected to be the pulse of the team, Wisconsin checks in at No.24 in the country, something that has head coach Bo Ryan a little baffled.

MADISON – The script Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan has followed for the last 10 seasons has virtually remained unchanged. Usually in order, Ryan answers questions about replacing last year's talent, about this year's expectations, can the Badgers contend for a conference or national championship and why nobody has picked the Badgers to win anything.

At this year's edition of UW's media day, the script was expected to stay the same, until somebody mentioned to the coach that the Badgers were ranked No.24 in the Coaches' Poll without having played a single game.

"Who lost in the Big Ten more than we did (in terms of) minutes, points and ‘W's?" Ryan questioned Thursday. "I don't know if anybody lost what we lost, so … how did they pick us 24th? That's just a testament to the guys that have played before and what they've accomplished."

As Wisconsin basketball prepares for its first exhibition opener against UW-La Crosse on Nov.6 and its non-conference opener Prairie View A&M on Nov.14, one can't talk about this year's edition, Ryan included, without talking about the missing weapons, all of which come from the backcourt.

Senior guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes made up 40.2 percent of the team's scoring, 38.1 percent of the assists, 34.5 percent of the minutes and 25.2 percent of the rebounds, numbers that got the Badgers to their 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

But if people expect a drop off, they haven't seen the progress of Wisconsin junior guard Jordan Taylor. Expected to be the starting point guard, Taylor, who in addition to his 10 points per game average last season, led Big Ten and ranked third in the nation with 3.03 assist-to-turnover ratio (118 assists to 39 turnovers).

"You always have to be confident in your game because once you lose confidence, then you second guess yourself, especially at this level," said Taylor, who also mentioned junior Rob Wilson as an able contributor.

Taylor emergence last season (he started 17 games and averaged 10 points per game) should make Wisconsin a dangerous combination with seniors post player Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil and sophomore Mike Bruesewitz.

Despite missing nine games in the heart of the conference season with a broken bone in his left wrist, Leuer was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection after leading UW with 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game last season. Leuer brings back a dynamic scoring knack, averaging double figures in 20 and 24 games last season.

His numbers were good enough to earn him two invitations to train with Team USA over the summer, experiences that has taken his game to another level and forced his teammates to catch up.

"Jon annoys me to be honest," Bruesewitz said. "After coming back, he was tough, which is the best way to describe it. He's a tough matchup and he annoys me when I play defense against him. I try to get in good position and get my hand in his face and the ball still goes through the hoop. His confidence has gone through the roof and it makes us pick up our game."

Nankivil, a senior from Madison, showed an increased aggressiveness in the post (increasing his rebounding numbers from 1.8 rpg to 4.7 rpg last season) has shown flashes in his game, tying UW's single-game record with seven 3-pointers at Purdue. Bruesewitz averaged 11.3 minutes over his final six Big Ten games, grabbing 18 rebounds (12 offensive) over that span.

"He's tough minded," Ryan said of Bruesewitz. "He's better than last year. He worked at some things … and loves to compete and mix it up. He's a (Joe) Krabbenhoft in a way."

There are four new freshmen on Wisconsin's 2010-11 squad, four-star center Evan Anderson (Eau Claire, Wis.), three-star shooting guard Ben Brust (Mundelein, Ill.), three-star shooting forward Duje Dukan (Deerfield, Ill.) and three-star guard Josh Gasser. With the vacancy at one of the guard positions, Ryan has been impressed with Gasser's bulldog mentality and expects him to be in the mix.

"His knowledge of the game and his court sense is really good," Ryan said. "So he's ahead of a lot of freshmen, and he's tough physically ... Josh can play, he's smart and his shot is there. Nothing seems to rattle him, which is what I like about him."

Wisconsin finished with 13 Big Ten wins last year for the third time in the past four seasons, but the driving force for the team this offseason has been finishing one game short of a fourth regular season conference title under Ryan. With every drill in practice or run up Elver Hill in preseason workouts, the confidence has been building in what the players hope will be a championship campaign.

"We were one game away and even if we had won the Big Ten title, we would have something to prove by winning it again," Taylor said. "There's always a motivation on this team and that's the personality everybody on this team has."

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