By Chris Terlop
This winter has been good to Wisconsin sports teams, both professionally and collegiately. The Marquette Golden Eagles, Wisconsin Badgers, and Green Bay Phoenix Women’s basketball teams are all ranked in the top 25 in the country. The Green Bay Phoenix Men finished fourth in the conference and won their first two Horizon League tournament games under head coach Brian Wardle, and came within seconds of a Horizon League Championship appearance. Even the Milwaukee Bucks, as up and down as they have been, have seemed to find their stride and are just three games out of fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Today I will tell you why it has been good for the Wisconsin Badgers. You can check out the two previous posts about the Phoenix and Golden Eagles on the blog main page.
Wisconsin came into the season without much fanfare and a lot of question marks. Those question marks increased when would-be starting point guard Josh Gasser was lost for the year with a torn ACL. They were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten, but it was supposed to be ways behind Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. Bottom line, it was not going to be a pretty season for the Badgers.
A month into the season, the predictions appeared to give the Badgers much more credit than they deserved. Early season losses included a ten point loss to Creighton, and six point loss to Virginia, a ten point loss to Marquette and, maybe the most concerning, a close win against the Green Bay Phoenix. They style of play was described as “slogging” by national journalists.
Then, an amazing thing happened; they blew out then #12 Illinois by 23 points. A fluke, it had to be, this Badger team is not top 25 caliber. Then they did the unthinkable, traveled to Assembly Hall and upset second-ranked Indiana. The rest is history.
Somehow Bo Ryan was able to turn this into another Badger-esque season. A few losses to lesser teams (Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue) and upsets over top of the line talent (Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana). They are a typical Bo team, middle to the back of the top 25, not a National Title contender, but good enough to pull an upset or two along the way and make a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
So you’re asking yourself, “Why is it good to be from Wisconsin if this is just another season?” I have a single answer for you. Sam Dekker.
I get on Bo Ryan and Wisconsin fans occasionally for being O.K. with a Sweet 16 ceiling. I feel like Bo can recruit better players than he gets. I think he could tweak his offensive philosophy and keep the lock down defense and become a title contender. Sam Dekker has given me hope that this can happen.
Dekker is one of the most over-looked, exciting freshman in the country. The home grown product is athletic, can run the floor, and can shoot. We have seen his vision continue to improve as he has gotten more minutes. His one flaw? Defense. He just happens to have Bo to coach him up on that and Dekker can help Bo make his offense dynamic and a desirable landing place for future recruits.
The incoming class, very athletic starting with former Dekker teammate Bronson Koening and his great court vision. Power Forward Nigel Hayes can play face up to the basket and is athletic enough to play the four or the three and shooting guard Riley Dearring’s skills are best utilized in the open court. Bo may have never had a more athletic incoming class.
If this season is any indication, Dekker will be a special player. Pair him with the incoming class and the veteran leadership of Ben Brust and a healthy Josh Gasser and you may have a team that is the perfect combination of Bo and the new-age up-tempo (ish) offense.
Anything that happens this season is only a preview for what could come for Wisconsin in the very near future.