The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team opens its season Friday at the Paradise Jam Tournament in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, with a 7:30 p.m. tip-off against Norfolk State. The Spartans finished 13-14 last season, including an 11-7 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Saturday, the Badgers (25-9 overall, 11-5 Big Ten last season) will face Eastern Kentucky (22-9, 11-5 Ohio Valley) at 7:30 p.m. Each game will be broadcast live on the 42-city Wisconsin Radio Network. There is no television broadcast for Friday or Saturday's game, but they can be viewed live on the Internet on a pay-per-view basis through www.collegesportsdirect.tv.
Wisconsin will wrap up its Paradise Jam appearance Monday. The opponent and time is dependent on the outcome of the first two rounds.
Monday's games will be televised on Fox Sports Net North.
Regarding the Badgers
Tucker is UW's only returning starter from the 2004-05 team that reached the Elite Eight. The 6-foot-6 junior led the team in scoring last season (15.2 points per game) and was second in rebounding (6.1). In the Badgers' two exhibition games, Tucker scored 43 points, more than a quarter of UW's total output. He was a preseason All-Big Ten first-team selection and is Badger Nation's preseason pick to win Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
Tucker will primarily play on the wing at the ‘3' position this season, but he can slide to the similar ‘2' spot and has also played some point in practice, though with a pair of guards on the wings.
Nixon is the team's only senior. He averaged 2.5 points and 11.7 minutes per game last season in 33 contests. He is capable of playing the 2, 3 or 4 and is probably the best 3-point shooter in UW's rotation at this point. Nixon made 14 of 35 triples (40 percent) as a sophomore and 17 of 42 (40.5 percent) as a junior.
Taylor started 12 of 34 games last season and was third on the team in scoring (8.4 points per game). While sharing the point guard duties with then-senior Sharif Chambliss, Taylor improved dramatically from his freshman season. But he turned the ball over 69 times and had just 56 assists, a statistic that needs to undergo dramatic improvement for UW's offense to thrive.
Butch played in 27 games as a redshirt freshman last season, averaging 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. He will be one of the focal points of UW's team this season, both offensively and defensively.
After three years battling inconsistency and injuries, Chappell is in the starting lineup. He is a capable player on both ends of the floor. A good passer, he adds an extra dynamic as a big man who can handle the ball well enough to help break a press.
With the 6-7 Nixon starting at the 2, the Badgers first five will have a size and length advantage over most teams. Taylor (6-2) has good size for a point guard, Tucker's size, strength and leaping ability should create mismatches on the wing, and Butch (6-11) and Chappell (6-10) are interchangeable at the 4 and 5 spots.
UW's depth is also blessed with height. The first four players off the bench are likely to include 6-11 center Greg Stiemsma, 6-7 forward Marcus Landry, 6-7 guard/forward Joe Krabbenhoft and 6-2 guard Michael Flowers.
The Badgers have been picked as low as eighth in a loaded Big Ten, but are widely expected to return to the NCAA Tournament again this season.
Tucker, of course, is the star. Wisconsin, though, needs complimentary players to develop around him.
A lot weight will be on Taylor's shoulders. Other players can fill in here and there, but UW's only other real option at the point is Flowers. Taylor will always be one of the quickest, if not the quickest player on the floor. He did a much better job harnessing his athletic abilities last season than he did as a freshman, but his decision making still needs to improve this season. Taylor has a scorer's streak in him at point guard. UW will need his aggressive drives to the lane and willingness to take a big shot to relieve some of the scoring burden off of Tucker. It still may take some time, but expect Taylor to thrive in the role. Think about his best moments against North Carolina in the Elite Eight last season. Taylor is capable of playing at that level consistently.
Butch is also expected to step up this season. He has taken on a leadership role and is growing more accustomed to battling in the post at this level. This team is going to be driven by Tucker and Taylor, but expect Butch to quietly enjoy a breakout season.
Watching Williams: The 10th man in the rotation is probably guard/forward DeAaron Williams. The redshirt freshman still has a ways to go offensively but he might be UW's best perimeter defender. That should earn him some minutes.
Three ball? Speaking of developing role players, the best pure shooter on this team is true freshman Mickey Perry, but he played all of eight minutes in two exhibition games. Perry needs to improve his defense and ball handling to earn playing time, but he is driven to contribute this season.
Steady freshmen: When it is all said and done this season, Landry and Krabbenhoft will be considered two of the Big Ten's top five freshmen. Krabbenhoft is not flashy, but he is exceptionally skilled and appears to already have a well above average understanding of the game. Landry's athleticism stands out immediately. He should be a good shot blocker and rebounder and a capable scorer. Like Krabbenhoft, Landry blends well with his teammates.
Flowers power: The sophomore guard is UW's best perimeter defender in the rotation. Flowers is a solid enough ball handler who has improved his shot. He is still developing as a point guard, but he is a high-energy, high-confidence player who should be a key contributor.
Standing tall: Stiemsma has an assortment of post moves and a soft touch around the basket that UW should get considerable mileage from. He is also another big body who can play defense and rebound. Still will get out of position, but he has made significant strides since last season.
Quick final take: This team has enough talent to compete in the Big Ten, even as talented as the league is this season. Tucker will be considered for All-American teams when this season is complete and will drive UW to remain in the conference's upper division. The feeling here is that only Michigan State and Indiana will finish ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten.
Projected regular-season finish: 19-9 overall, 10-6 Big Ten (third place)