One year ago, Wisconsin men’s basketball head coach Bo Ryan faced the prospect of replacing his entire backcourt, which was worth 168 starts between just two players.
Players leave every year in the college game, but this past offseason demanded an even “taller” order, as Ryan’s entire frontcourt graduated, taking with it 203 games worth of starting experience.
With preseason All-American senior Jordan Taylor and sophomore Josh Gasser returning to their respective guard positions, the eye of the Badgers turns to the front line where Tim Jarmusz, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil are no longer present.
The above three bigs wielded a savviness from the perimeter and on the defensive side of the ball, but the new, upcoming edition of the Wisconsin frontline may be heading in a slightly different direction.
With the three most likely successors, junior Mike Bruesewitz and redshirt juniors Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans, several members of the team are expecting a stronger presence in the paint this season. Last year, more than half of Nankivil and Jarmusz’s shots came from the arc and just over 30 percent of Leuer’s team-leading 483 shots originated there as well.
“Not that we can’t shoot, I think we’re both pretty comfortable stepping outside and shooting it, but I think we are a little bit more going inside and I think that’s something coach has seen early on in practice and something he really wants to emphasize early on,” Berggren said, referring to himself and redshirt freshman Evan Anderson.
“We’re definitely more comfortable rolling to the basket, posting up, things like that, and I think we’ll see more of that this year.”
Berggren appeared in 29 games last season, averaging 6.9 minutes per contest and converting .491 percent of his shots. Bruesewitz, meanwhile, appeared in every game, averaging just under 20 minutes, and put forth a .471 shooting percentage from the field.
Evans, an athletically gifted, 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward, didn’t fare as well from the field last season, despite showing flashes of success. He shot at a clip of .311 percent and rarely attempted the three-ball.
Anderson, on the other hand, still remains a bit of an enigma after redshirting last season. Standing at 6-foot-10, Anderson is tied with Berggren as the team’s second-tallest player, as freshman Frank Kaminsky stands one inch taller.
But what sets Anderson apart is his 260-pound frame, which is 25 pounds heavier than the Badgers’ runner-up, Berggren.
“He’s so wide and long; he’s tough to score on,” Berggren said. “You can’t move him in the post, and it’s hard to get shots over him. He’s got a huge wingspan. I definitely think he can contribute this year.”
Prior to Wisconsin’s exhibition matchup against Wisconsin-Steven’s Point on Nov. 5, Anderson said the role he hoped to fulfill was to “back up Jared Berggren in the post,” but he ultimately wasn’t sure how Ryan would utilize him this year.
Berggren and Anderson seem to represent the only options the team has for a true big man this season. And with Berggren zeroing in on a starting job, Ryan seemed to have suggested during the team’s media day on Oct. 24 that Anderson’s role is still up on the air.
Against the Pointers, Anderson logged only two minutes of playing time.
“We might not be as big,” Ryan said of the team’s collective size. “We could be, but then again, we might not be.”
As much as players believe the 2011-12 season will feature more post-play and slashing than in years past, Ryan likes to remind people that putting bigs in the post was still an important element to a team that, at times, relied heavily on three-pointers in 2010-11.
“I’ll give you the stat: The highest-percentage three is the three that was received from the post,” Ryan said. “Because a player catching is facing the rim in a shooting position, in a ready position. You don’t have to worry about charting it; we’ve already done it over the years.”
One player who benefited from such passes last season was Bruesewitz, who converted 32 percent of his shots from the perimeter. With Leuer’s departure, the hard-working Bruesewitz will be counted on to develop into a consistent scorer.
The 6-foot-6, 222 pound forward was a key figure despite coming off the bench most of last year. He scored 10 points in the second half of Wisconsin’s comeback victory over No. 1-ranked Ohio State and produced 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game during the NCAA Tournament.
“Mike is just confident and continuing to grow mentally,” Taylor said. “He took a lot of strides last year. I remember the UNLV game; he felt so bad because he threw the ball away, and we told him to keep his head up.”
“Later in the season he came up big for us … game in and game out he was making big shots for us.”
Nankivil and Leuer acted as two of UW’s three top scorers a year ago, and Taylor is the lone returning player to have averaged double-digit scoring for a entire season. With a large enough void to fill on the frontline, Ryan admits he’s on the look-out for a consistent scorer, but he’s not too worried about nobody stepping up on the frontline.
“We have to figure out right now where the points are coming from, and usually there’s something about points. People usually step up and get them if you run good offense, get good shots, if you have guys that are unselfish,” he said.