Big Ten Respect

It's a common belief throughout Big Ten territory: Bo Ryan doesn't rebuild, he reloads. That's why a somewhat inexperienced Wisconsin squad was picked second in the league's preseason poll.

ROSEMONT, Ill. — When Wisconsin was selected as the second-best Big Ten men's basketball team in the preseason media rankings Thursday, the response from players and coaches around the league was not disbelief.

No matter that the Badgers lost a six-man senior class, which accounted for more than half of their scoring and rebounding and two-thirds of their total assists.

The overriding sentiment appeared to be that, although Wisconsin might not possess as many threats as it had a year ago, having point guard Jordan Taylor still at the helm and coach Bo Ryan manning the sideline is more than enough to warrant lofty expectations again this season.

Ohio State, coming off a 34-3 season, was selected to win the league. Michigan State was picked behind Wisconsin to finish third.

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith went so far as to say the Badgers have an opportunity to reach the Final Four this season.

"A Bo Ryan-coached team, they're not going to beat themselves," Smith said at Big Ten Media Day. "You know they're going to be consistent. When you have a guy like Jordan Taylor who can take care of the ball the way he does and deliver the ball to people, he's developed into one of the outstanding guards in the country.

"I think they're well-positioned. They can be a team to get to the postseason, get to the NCAA Final Four. They have all those types of weapons."

Taylor, named to the preseason All-Big Ten team, averaged 18.1 points and 4.7 assists as a junior. He also led the nation with a 3.81 assist-to-turnover ratio, and his role as a team leader will only increase this season.

Teammates Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz are the most likely candidates to pick up the offensive slack from the departed seniors. Gasser averaged 5.9 points during his freshman campaign last year, while Bruesewitz scored 4.6 points per game.

Wisconsin finished last season 25-9, including 13-5 in the Big Ten, and lost to Butler in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

"Their offense is real hard to guard," Indiana guard Verdell Jones III said. "They run that little flex. As soon as you let up, there's a backdoor bucket, or you play good defense for 28 seconds and they get the ball to Jordan Taylor and he hits a 3. They have a really good team and are very well-coached."

The Badgers ranked fourth in defensive scoring average a year ago, surrendering just 58.6 points per game. That hard-nosed philosophy isn't likely to change any time soon under Ryan, although most opponents admit they would prefer an up-tempo game — which is one reason Ryan persists with his slow-down plan of attack.

"They rarely let people take them out of their games," Purdue guard Lewis Jackson said. "I think that's what's so tough about playing them. If you try and speed them up, it's not going to work. You can't really play their style of play. You have to be on your A game when you're playing them because they don't let people take the game away from them."

It is not clear how the Badgers will fill the void left behind by 6-foot-10 forward Jon Leuer, the team's leading scorer from a year ago at 18.3 points per game. He and 6-9 forward Keaton Nankivil, who averaged 9.7 points, possessed a shooting stroke that allowed each to step out to the 3-point line, a rare trait among big men. The two combined to shoot 113 for 275 (41 percent) from 3-point range.

Ryan suggested it would require a combination of Jared Berggren, Evan Anderson, Frank Kaminsky and Jarrod Uthoff to help fill the void this season.

"Look around the country," Ryan said. "Find two 6-9, 6-10 players that shot the way those two did and were such an integral part of the offense -- because they could pick and pop, they could space, they could also post. They're going to be tough to replace.

"I think what we're going to need to do to replace them is it might not be two guys replacing two guys; it might be three or four replacing two."

In 10 years under Ryan's guidance, Wisconsin has posted an above-.500 conference record every season and has never finished outside the top four in the Big Ten standings.

If the preseason media rankings are correct, that streak will continue.

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