As students awoke way too early Thursday to purchase their men’s basketball season ticket packages, they likely had visions of Jordan Taylor surprising critics and carrying the team through another great year.

While a glance at the Badgers’ roster may leave skeptics questioning their NCAA Tournament chances again, they’re forgetting about the one-man wrecking crew of Taylor. After emerging onto the national scene after a stellar 2010-11 campaign, the senior point guard should be considered a legitimate Naismith Player of the Year candidate. Though a player from Wisconsin has never won the award, Taylor seems like the perfect man to break the streak.

A second-team All-American as a junior, it seems like the national media has finally stopped overlooking Taylor, giving him a realistic shot at the Naismith Award. In addition to his All-American accolades, the Bloomington, Minn., native was one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the top point guard in the country. While such awards may seem irrelevant to this season, the fact that Taylor is already on the radar for voters across the country should provide a major boost to his chances at the Player of the Year award.

Often single-handedly carrying Wisconsin on the hardwood last year, there’s no doubt that his role will on the team will only step up with the absence of forward Jon Leuer. After averaging 18 points per game while shooting over 43 percent from the field, there’s no doubt that the star point guard is ready to step in for a team that will rely on him even more than last year. On top of all the scoring, he finished with 161 assists, the third-highest number of assists in a season in Wisconsin history. Simply put, he is the Badgers’ offense this year.

Sure, Taylor will place plenty of competition from the likes of Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, among others, but he should put up comparable numbers to those players. He will likely carry the Badgers to a 14th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and that could be enough success to remain a contender for the award.

With Leuer still on the team last year, Taylor wasn’t even expected to be the best player to suit up for the Badgers, but he quickly proved that he was more than capable of carrying the team.

Many may point out that Bo Ryan’s signature swing offense doesn’t allow players to put up big enough numbers to win a Player of the Year award, but Taylor proved last year that he has no trouble scoring in Ryan’s system. Though the swing offense is admittedly not the best system to put up gaudy numbers, Taylor showed that he can put up huge numbers by scoring 21 points in the second half over a No. 1 Ohio State team and lighting up Indiana with a career-high 39 points.

As the main ball-handler for UW this season, Taylor will have no shortage of scoring opportunities. Shooting over 42 percent from behind the arc in 2010-11, he has the ability to score from anywhere on the court, and his talents go well beyond scoring. Arguably the most efficient guard in the nation last year, he led the NCAA with a 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio. Despite touching the ball more than anyone on the team, Taylor rarely turned the ball over, the true sign of a complete player. The gifted point guard is also a great defender, leading the Badgers last year with 25 steals and being named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team.

The bottom line is that Taylor does it all and could be as critical to UW’s success this year as any player in the country. While this could be a breakout year for junior forward Mike Bruesewitz and sophomore Josh Gasser will play a much bigger role, the Badgers’ fate lies in the hands of Taylor.

Look for Taylor to have big performances against North Carolina and continue to dominate as the Big Ten season comes on, games that could get him in Player of the Year conversations. If the junior can put up big numbers when the spotlight is on against big opponents, he could be well on his way to becoming the first Badger to earn college basketball’s top award.

Wisconsin fans might feel like Taylor has little room for improvement, but he should come back an even stronger player when he returns to the floor this November after taking part in Chris Paul’s CP3 Elite Guard camp and Deron Williams’ Nike Skills Academy. Spending a summer competing against players including North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine, the senior should come back with an even more developed game.

On a team often denied respect for its uncanny consistency, Taylor is the rare player that can put in a jaw-dropping season and bring more attention to the program. Sullinger will undoubtedly be the favorite, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the Wisconsin basketball program has exceeded expectations.

Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Do you think Jordan Taylor has a chance at winning the Naismith Award? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @imccue.