Next Year, Already?

After Wisconsin's surprising win against Florida State and then their less shocking loss to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament, several topics need to be addressed as the Badgers head into their preparation for the 2009-2010 season.

MADISON - Let's talk about the Wisconsin Badgers for next year. I know, I know. The perfect response would be Allen Iverson's quote, "we're talking about practice?" Well, yes, Mr. Iverson, but instead of practice we are talking about next year. Let's focus on three issues that need to be addressed as Wisconsin heads into next year.

ISSUE ONE: Replace senior forwards Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry.

Krabbenhoft's production (30 min, 8.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game) has been impressive and consistent. Not only the team's leading rebounder, but he also shot well from the paint, free-throw line and long range.

While Krabbenhoft did much of the dirty work, Landry was the team's leading scorer. His numbers (31 min, 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and over a block per game) all speak to his value as the team's only true post offense this past year. Much like his forward counterpart, he shot a remarkable 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line.

SOLUTION: These two leaders were the smartest and the hardest working players on the team. They simply can't be fully replaced as the team adjusts without the duo.

Several players could start for Krabbenhoft, probably Tim Jarmusz, who has the nearly the same size and build. It will more than likely take several players to do what Krabbenhoft did because he became the Swiss Army Knife – he did a little bit of everything. Next year, Wisconsin just might have to take any production they can get from this spot.

The best way to replace Landry's offense is to start Keaton Nankivil at power forward. For several minutes against Florida State, he was the only offense threat while the rest of the team struggled. His 14 points and four rebounds while playing just over half the game should lead to bigger production in the future. He hasn't shown he is capable of scoring in the post like Landry, but no one has yet. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Nankivil is one the few Badgers that has true size and should turn into a much better rebounder. Plus, he is a superb three-point shooter.

ISSUE TWO: Keep opponents from shooting a high percentage.

For a team that prides itself on defense, Wisconsin allowed opposing offenses to shoot 44 percent from the field for the year, which was the second worst in the Big Ten and only better than last-place Indiana who finished with six wins.

What makes keeping the other team's percentage low so important is that Wisconsin, more than most other teams, can not rely on their offense to carry the load. For example, look at their loss to Xavier where they shot 28 percent from the field. Or during the Badgers' six-game losing streak in the regular season, where three consecutive opponents hit better than half their shots in each game.

SOLUTION: This one has no easy solution, because coach Bo Ryan would have made any adjustment to possibly improve his defense. Wisconsin doesn't have any great shot blockers to erase defensive mistakes. And other than Trevon Hughes, no one on the team is stealing many passes. The team also doesn't have great height anywhere.

Instead, the coaching needs to find a defensive stopper. After the Xavier loss, everyone wanted to exclusively discuss (mostly complain) about Wisconsin's offensive woes as the culprit. Apparently no one noticed that Wisconsin gave up 35 points in the second half, after they were leading at halftime.

Former Badger Michael Flowers is the perfect proto-type. Numbers can't tell the full story because Flowers would just make life a living nightmare for the best opposing guard or small forward. Wisconsin needs to find that type of player now and just stick with him. If he can't shoot or score that well or isn't as polished, so what? Play him.

Ryan might have to recruit this player now and/or take away playing time from the upperclassmen, but someone on Wisconsin has to develop into a shutdown backcourt player. To replace Flowers, Wisconsin needs someone with similar size, intensity, quick hands and feet. Wisconsin's defense thrived when Flowers was all over the court creating havoc for everyone, getting steals and applying full-court pressure. Plus, he eventually made himself into a better than average offensive player.

ISSUE THREE: Create offense when outside shots are not falling.

Junior guard Jason Bohannon had an up-and-down season behind the arc, even though he shot a respectable 37 percent for the season. As a streaky shooter, in some games he hit 6-of-7, while he also went through a stretch where he hit only for 4-for-18 three-pointers. His backcourt partner, Hughes, shot around 36 percent from three, but then had a 1-for-15 slump himself.

In this swing offense, if the opposing defense traps successfully and keeps Wisconsin players from penetrating into the lane, the Badgers have a tendency to shoot too many three-pointers. That's the problem. The offense mandates that they don't create turnovers, don't throw up bad shots and make sure everyone touches the ball – but they also need to be less predictable and static when those shots don't go in.

SOLUTION: Give backup point guard Jordan Taylor more minutes, responsibility and freedom to create offense. Unlike Hughes, who is a combination between a shooter and passer, Taylor is truly a pass-first point guard. Along with Hughes, Taylor is the only other player on the team capable of getting into the lane by himself off the dribble. On several plays against Florida State and Xavier, Taylor drove the lane and dished to an open teammate for a shot or what ended being a better shot.

Given their height, it would be quite difficult to have Taylor, Hughes and Bohannon all start at the same time. Instead, Taylor should be the first option off the bench next year and potentially take minutes away from Bohannon if his shot isn't falling. When Taylor does come in, Hughes needs to switch to the two spot because as we saw in the Tournament, when Hughes is given free reign to score, he can be very explosive. Asking Hughes to play the point might limit his scoring opportunities, so playing Taylor not only allows Hughes more freedom but it gives Wisconsin two players who penetrate and create more open shots.


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