Unlike past seasons the front court is the question mark going into the 2011-12 season for the Badgers. Wisconsin lost all three of its starters up front to graduation. Jon Leuer was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks while Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz are also moving on.
One likely starter is junior Mike Bruesewitz, and he'll have a different look as he'll be sporting a new hairdo. Bruesewitz was the subject of one of the funniest moments of otherwise dry Big Ten Media Day, with Head Coach Bo Ryan explaining why his team could be underrated he gave us this gem: “might be that people don't know that much -- because Bruesewitz was not a McDonald's All-American, despite what he looked like with that red wig, with his red -- I mean, not wig, his red hair. He was called Ronald McDonald at a few places.” Gone is the red mop, replaced by a buzz haircut.
On the court Bruesewitz scored 4.2 points per game last year, including an 18-point performance against Green Bay, and a 12-point showing against No. 1 Ohio State including two clutch 3-pointers. He had an impressive NCAA Tournament as well, averaging 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game coming off the bench. The question now is can he step up and provide that level of play on a consistent basis?
The 6-10 junior Jared Berggren also is a likely starter, as he is the only player on the team at least 6-7 who had any real playing time for the Badgers last season. Berggren averaged 2.3 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 12 points in 12 minutes including going 3-3 from behind the 3-point line in Wisconsin's 87-48 victory over North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. He played in a career-high 21 minutes and scored eight points in the Badgers 68-60 win against Minnesota.
Wisconsin needs a spark coming from the small forward spot, something the Badgers haven't had since the departure of Alando Tucker. That spark needs to be produced by junior Ryan Evans. Evans ranks right with Jordan Taylor in terms of an on-ball defender, but Evans' shot hasn't come around like Bo Ryan has hoped. Last year, Evans' numbers dropped from his freshman season and averaged just 2.8 points per game while shooting just 31 percent from the field and failed to make a 3-point shot on three attempts. Evans will need to produce more offensively for this team to be more successful, which Evans has shown glimpses of doing, scoring 10 points of 5-9 shooting in the Badgers 66-59 victory over Purdue, including a jumper to put Wisconsin ahead with under a minute to play.
The Badgers will have a young and inexperienced bench. The "old" member of the group this year will be 6-8 sophomore Duje Dukan. Playing time will be limited for Dukan again this year due to the talent ahead of him on the depth chart. He only played 15 minutes all last year and scored a total of two points with those coming in last year's opener against Prairie View A&M.
Wisconsin will have one older player than Dukan on the bench in junior Zach Bohannon, but he will have to sit out this year as he transferred to Wisconsin from Air Force. Bohannon is also the little brother of former Wisconsin standout Jason Bohannon and averaged 4.4 points per game last year for the Falcons.
The freshman who has been turning heads the most has been Iowa's Mr. Basketball Jarrod Uthoff. At today’s Big Ten Media Day Head Coach Bo Ryan was asked about Uthoff, saying “He's picked up things sort of the way Josh Gasser did last year. Some guys it might be after a year, some guys after two years, but he's grasped our concepts as fast as anybody that we've had.” Ryan continued, “So he will be in the mix I would say right now, and probably the most consistent of the younger guys to this point.”
Redshirt freshman Evan Anderson will need to be a productive player off the bench for the Badgers, especially given Berggren's tendency to get in foul trouble. Anderson has the potential to be a defensive force and a Greg Stiemsma clone. He is still very raw, but he has the chance to become a very solid piece in the coming years.
Frank Kaminsky may very well redshirt his freshman year to gain strength to be able to compete at the Division I level. If he doesn't redshirt, I doubt he will see too much playing time as he’s well behind the other guys up front in terms of body type and experience.
The Badgers will need the young players to step up from the bench for this season to be successful. With two freshman likely having big roles of the bench, Wisconsin will be a young team who lacks experience. But the big men could be very good players in a few years to team up with incoming recruits Sam Dekker(2012) and Bronson Koenig(2013) and may be the strength of the team in those years.