Ready for the Unofficial Tip

Breaking from the norm of scheduling two in-state schools for preseason exhibition games, No.15 Wisconsin will board the buses and head down to Chicago for a scrimmage against DePaul Saturday, providing the Badgers their first game opportunity to impress the coaches.

MADISON - Whether it be the Cinderella Butler Bulldogs and their back-to-back national runner-up finishes or Virginia Commonwealth making an improbable run to the Final Four, basketball fans like to root for the underdogs in the NCAA Tournament.

That's bad news for Wisconsin basketball program that has made its living flying under people's radars. Problem is when you return a talented backcourt led by second-team All-American point guard Jordan Taylor, the Badgers aren't fooling anybody anymore.

"We lost a lot, so it would easy to make the argument that we are underdogs, but the rankings say otherwise," said assistant coach Lamont Paris. "It's not something we always try to play up, but when you sneak up on people it's more locker room material because people don't think we'll be very good.

"Now the conversation turns to we haven't done anything yet and our rankings don't give us any bonus points. You have to come out and approach it like you are the underdog. We're going to approach things the same way no matter where they pick us."

Even with Wisconsin losing a six-man senior class and three starters, the Badgers find themselves ranked No.14 in the preseason coaches' poll and No.15 in the Associated Press poll. Wisconsin hasn't been ranked in the preseason AP poll since they opened at No.9 in 2006.

"We try not to pay too much attention to that stuff," Taylor said. "We just want to go out and play the games and take it one at a time. We feel like we have a great group of guys. I think every team feels like they have to prove something. Every team wants to win their conference and a national title. We all have confidence in one another to go out and perform and play for each other."

The official start to the season is two weeks away when Wisconsin opens at the Kohl Center No.12 against Kennesaw State, but the unofficial start begins Saturday at DePaul with a closed-door scrimmage.

The scrimmage features no media, no television cameras, no fans, no keeping score and no insight from coaches unless they're asked directly about it. In essence, it's like playground basketball under a cloud of secrecy. There's nothing secretive, however, about Taylor.

After leading Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, Taylor, who averaged 18.1 points and 4.7 assists along with a national-best 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio, was one of five players on the All-Big Ten first team and the first Wisconsin player in the discussion for national player of the year since Alando Ticker in 2006.

"It's the oldest saying when your best player is your hardest worker, you're going to be pretty good, and we're in that situation," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "(Jordan) is our hardest worker. And he's the guy that makes everybody better around him."

Like many of the other players, Paris is hoping to make a big jump from year one to year two. Hired from Akron a season ago, Paris has gotten over the ‘new guy evaluating the old guys' label and got his hands dirty working with Wisconsin's post players.

Among his preseason responsibilities is making sure Wisconsin's young post players have the necessary strength and stability to be factors in the rugged Big Ten, a test that begins with the Blue Demons from the Big East.

"Coming here reaffirmed a lot of things I believed in like defense first, playing tough, hard-nosed basketball, minimizing mistakes and player development," Paris said. "Those things are invaluable in the game of basketball. Not having a million plays necessarily to run, it's about what you do, how you do it and you have with you in your foxhole."

Losing six players from last season, Saturday's scrimmage will be the first opportunity for Wisconsin to have returning guys work at different positions. Paris pointed out junior Mike Bruesewitz developing into a scorer on a consistent basis, junior Ryan Evans and senior Rob Wilson finding a steady level of contribution and junior Jared Berggren getting the opportunity to emerge.

The first scrimmage is certainly a good platform to make a favorable impression on the coaching staff. Two years ago, Evans showed his versatility by scoring eight points, grabbing seven rebounds, registering two blocks and two steals. The red-white scrimmage performance catapulted Evans to play in 33 games as a redshirt freshman.

Last season in the scrimmage, Keaton Nankivil scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, setting the tone for a season in which he set new career high in points per game (9.7), shooting percentage (49.6) and blocks (42).

"We've got a lot of guys that have been working really hard this offseason," Taylor said. "Jared Berggren has been working as hard as I have ever seen him work since I've known him. He's ready to go mentally and physically. Mike Bruesewitz is working hard, Ryan Evans, everybody is working extremely hard. There are a lot of guys capable of having a really good year."

The success keeps coming for Wisconsin, but so do the disappointments of not being able to close the deal. Over the last two seasons, Wisconsin has finished a combined three games out of first place in the Big Ten regular season, bounced in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and failed to reach the regional finals by shooting themselves out of the tournament. That's not the path they want to continue on.

"Anytime you have the goal of winning something and make an exit quicker than you thought you would, it's automatically motivation in the guys coming back," Paris said. "That's something the guys are going to strive to prove that we can be successful. It's a goal for the guys already."

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