If any Badger men's basketball fan journeyed back to last season their strongest memory might not be the second consecutive Big Ten title or the 24-8 overall record. They will remember being on the edge of their seats and watching senior guard Freddie Owens pull up from the left corner and sink the game-winning shot against Tulsa that vaulted Wisconsin into the Sweet Sixteen.
With last season's excitement behind them and a new season on the horizon the Badgers will look to the 6-2, 190-pound Owens to continue to keep fans on their toes and help direct Wisconsin back to the tournament and beyond. Unfortunately for Owens, opponents have been progressively learning what he is capable of and he may find it difficult to get loose in the corner this year.
"I'll just have to take what the defense gives me," Owens said. "I'm pretty sure they're going to come out and try to cover me hard so we'll see what happens."
Owens had respectable numbers last season with 10.3 points per game and 53 total assists. During the offseason Owens was hard at work in perfecting his play around the basket, posting up, and moving without the ball. As one of the Badgers' three seniors this season, Owens knows that this is his final year to make a lasting impression.
"I've been through three seasons," Owens said. "I pretty much know what it takes. I guess my role is to be more of a leader this season and to try to fill in what Kirk (Penney) left us with."
Though Owens can hold his own in the backcourt, the starting five will be down a weapon with sophomore guard/forward Alando Tucker out until mid-December with a broken foot. The team knows that this is a huge void that needs to be filled.
"The scoring load has to be picked up," Owens said. "He gives you 12 points a game, and six or seven rebounds, I mean he's very athletic. You can't replace him, it's just a matter of time of when he's going to come back and help us on the court."
With the relatively young squad on his hands, Badger head coach Bo Ryan looks to his seniors, especially Owens, to help keep team morale up despite Tucker's injury. Though Owens is placed in the driver's seat, Ryan knows that even seniors still have things to work on.
"I'd like Freddie just to be a little more consistent than he was last year," Ryan said. "He had some pretty good games for us and he did a pretty good job defensively. We'd like to see him pick up his defense and stay more consistent on offense."
One thing that Owens has picked up within the past few years is his performance at the charity stripe. During his first two seasons as a Badger he averaged 59.6 percent at the line. Last season Owens drastically improved, finishing seventh in the Big Ten and leading the team at 82 percent.
"I've just continued to just work on my free throws," Owens said. "It's more mental than anything. Just go up there, concentrate, and knock them down. I just figure the less I worry about missing and the more I worry about making, then that's what will happen and I was fortunate to go up a lot (in percentage)."
With a third-straight Big Ten Championship on the line, Owens and the Badgers have much to defend this year. Tucker's early injury and tough Big Ten opponents will present a challenge, but there is no telling what the season will bring until the opening tip-off.
"We're just going to take it one game at a time and just try to get better as a team and we'll see where that takes us," Owens said.