Wisconsin's expected starters Saturday:
First off the bench:
Also in rotation:
G Tanner Bronson, Fr., 5-9, 160
On the mend:
F DeAaron Williams, Fr., 6-4, 190
On indefinite leave of absence:
G Boo Wade, Jr., 6-3, 190
Experience, what experience?
On paper this is Wisconsin's deepest and most versatile group in head coach Bo Ryan's four seasons. But only Wilkinson, seniors Clayton Hanson, Zach Morley and Andreas Helmigk and junior Ray Nixon truly played last year.
Sophomores Alando Tucker and Jason Chappell and freshman Brian Butch redshirted last year, senior Sharif Chambliss sat out a transfer year, freshman Tanner Bronson was a team manager and guard Michael Flowers, center Greg Stiemsma (who is out 6-8 weeks with a foot injury) and forward DeAaron Williams (who may redshirt this year) were in high school. Guard Kammron Taylor played a mere 41 minutes all season. In comparison, Tucker played 83 in four games before taking his medical redshirt.
Still, the Badgers will likely rotate 10 players from the opening tip this year and may go even deeper when Chappell and Stiemsma return from injury. They may go 11 deep Saturday if Williams reverses course and decides to play this season.
How the minutes break down, however, is anyone's guess at this point.
Wisconsin's only returning starting is its primary leader and best player. Wilkinson's demeanor and floor presence command respect. Arguably the best post player in the Big Ten, Wilkinson needs to dominate for the Badgers to make a run at a conference title this season.
Calling all perimeter defenders
There are enough talented players on this Wisconsin roster to replace Devin Harris' scoring and his playmaking ability. One of the toughest places to make up for his departure, and that of Freddie Owens, however, is in their defensive prowess.
Harris and Owens were the Badgers two best perimeter defenders last season. None of Wisconsin's guards or wing forwards is as solid defensively as Harris nor does anyone anticipate passing lanes as well as Harris did.
Save for Alando Tucker, the Badgers do not have a perimeter player nearly as strong as Owens.
Hanson has improved tremendously in this area and may be Wisconsin's best perimeter defender. Morley, who will play more along the wing this season, has also advanced well in this regard. If there is a gap in Taylor's game it is defensively, but his is improving and has been focusing diligently on the necessary skills in practice.
This need for a perimeter defender should open minutes for Flowers, who is tenacious and is strong and quick enough to guard point guards and small forwards.
Pointing in the right direction
Taylor does not need to step in for Harris as a 20-point scorer who rarely leaves the floor but the Badgers need him to consistently run the offense. Wisconsin's switch to a more free flowing, pressing style should suit the lightning quick Taylor, especially if he grows defensively and can earn some easy baskets in transition.
Once Chambliss is fully recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in March, he will be a dynamic guard at both the ‘1' and ‘2' positions. As it is he is still a capable ball handler and deft shooter, he just does not have the same strength and stamina in his knee. As Chambliss heals, he will chip into Taylor's and Hanson's minutes.
Flowers looked very comfortable at the point in the Badgers' second exhibition. Ryan is comfortable with him running the offense so the true freshman will have his opportunities.
Much has been made of Wisconsin's adoption of the pressing style Ryan's teams at UW-Platteville thrived with. The Badgers' press, however, is still in its growth period, Ryan has said repeatedly. Once it kicks into gear Wisconsin may be able to wear down even the more veteran teams in the Big Ten.
Who takes command?
In addition to his defensive skills, Harris' absence will be most felt when the game is on the line and the Badgers need someone to take control. That was almost always Harris last season. Wilkinson and Tucker are talented enough to dominate a game but in crunch time it is always easier for a backcourt player to control the action. Can Taylor, Chambliss, Hanson or Flowers assume that role?
Only Wilkinson and Harris averaged double figure scoring last season. Two years ago five players did so—Harris, Wilkinson, Tucker, Kirk Penney and Owens. Expect this season to reflect the balanced scoring of the 2002-03 group. Wilkinson and Tucker are the most likely offensive leaders. Hanson, Morley, Chambliss, Taylor, Butch, Nixon and Helmigk all have the potential to be double-digit scoring options. Expect two or three of that group to achieve that plateau.
Wade's indefinite return
At some point this season Boo Wade may return to the Wisconsin basketball team, perhaps as early as mid-December. Then, suddenly, the Badgers would recoup a lost returning starter and an experienced point guard. It is impossible to know exactly how Wade's return will impact UW, but he would likely become the team's best perimeter defender and most capable ball handler. Whether he returns to the starting lineup, or assumes a support role, remains to be seen.
UW's expected finish? 21-6 overall (pre-Big Ten tournament), 11-5 in conference play