Major thanks to Phil Mitten and the folks at Bucky's 5th Quarter - the Wisconsin site on SB Nations - for working on a Q and A exchange with me. You can find my answers to their questions on Bucky's 5th Quarter.
But for now, take note of their in-depth takes on the changes in Wisconsin's size and talent, why in some ways the personnel might match up very well, why Wisconsin is so consistent under Bo Ryan, and support for my personal opinion that Madison, Wisconsin is really fun.
And follow Phil at @hoopsmarinara; follow Bucky's 5th Quarter as well - @B5Q.
Q: With three starters are gone in the frontcourt, and Josh Gasser returns from his injury. How confident are you that Wisconsin can maintain the same level of defensive efficiency? Why? Is it possible that they're overrated?
Considering Wisconsin had the top defense in the country last season according to Ken Pomeroy, I don't expect Wisconsin to maintain the exact same defensive efficiency this year. The Badgers lost too much experience up front.
A decent team effort could pick up the slack on the boards, but the footwork and positioning that Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren had down pat after 4-5 years in the system will take more time to duplicate. Frank Kaminsky is not the shot eraser that Berggren was on the back end either. Two freshmen will see regular minutes spelling Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who will be a slim stretch 4-type up front.
With an improved offense (fingers-crossed) though, I'm confident that Wisconsin is still a Top 25 team. In fact, as long as Bo Ryan is the head coach, the Badgers should always be ranked in the preseason, because Ryan manages this program so well. It's incredibly steady despite what the personnel losses look like on paper.
Q: Speaking of which, how is Josh Gasser's recovery? Tell us about him and what we can expect from him, Ben Brust, and the other Badger guards.
Gasser certainly looked tentative during the team's Canadian summer tour, and to my own eyes, still less than 100% during last week's exhibition. The coaches are still watching his minutes. But he's close. The thing is, as a former quarterback and 2012 Big Ten All-Defensive Team member, Gasser has been one of those heady, scrapper types. I still hold my breath when he absorbs contact and comes up adjusting his knee brace. His knee was jacked up.
Gasser and Ben Brust bring a ton of experience to the table and have combined to shoot 40% on threes over the past two seasons. Brust is more of the streaky, volume shooter, though he has improved his control and developed into a better defender too. He led the team last year with 11 ppg.
The third starter in the 3-guard lineup is Traevon Jackson, son of Ohio State great Jimmy Jackson. An underrated recruit, Jackson played with a real chip on his shoulder last year, which had both positive and negative effects. He stepped into the starting PG role as a true sophomore, filling in for the injured Gasser after George Marshall lost the job six games into the season.
Trae made a few huge game-saving shots for the Badgers last year and may have the ball in his hands if the situation arises Friday. But he has to cut down on his turnovers and be a better leader, which he says he's worked on.
The 5'11" Marshall has a good-looking shot coming off the bench. Freshman Bronson Koenig could see minutes as well, in a similar role are Marshall.
Q: With so much change, what should the offense look like? Will it still be deliberate? Touches on the block? Big men shooting threes? Ball screens and drives? The Sam Dekker show?
Wisconsin is still going to be a perimeter-oriented team and probably will look very similar to its past teams. However, just based on the mentality of the current players, the offense should run at a slightly quicker pace this season.
Will it speed up enough for the casual fan to really care? Maybe not.
Kaminsky can shoot, so they can run pick-and-pop with him. Dekker doesn't drive and finish as well as he simply makes great cuts and converts on opportunities he gets when his teammates find him.
But no doubt either Dekker or Jackson will control the flow of the offense. One of Ryan's go-to sets lately has been "horns," which gives the ballhandler two simultaneous screen options up top. In actuality, the Badgers rarely run Ryan's famed "swing offense" in it's purest form anymore.
Q: Ken Pomeroy adjusted his rating system to account for, in part, the way that Wisconsin always received a high rating for pummeling weak early-season opponents. Why is there a difference between the Badgers' dominant performances against the weak and the good-but-not-overwhelming performances against the strong?
I don't think he did it just because of the Badgers, but either way, UW will always rank highly there because they don't turn the ball over and they rebound well. And I'll take slight issue with the "not overwhelming performances" take. At its best last year, Wisconsin pummeled Ohio State by 22, and swept Indiana and Michigan in impressive fashion -- those were three of the best teams in the country.
In general though, those lesser teams don't have enough transcendent athletes to either disrupt an outside shooting barrage by UW or force the Badgers into defensive mistakes.
Q: What happened against Ole Miss in last year's NCAA Tournament? Why should Wisconsin fans be confident that they'll win against St. John's - or, what worries should they have about Bo Ryan's team going up against the Johnnies?
The seniors didn't show up against Ole Miss. They shot terribly and made some turnovers; they let the forwards from Ole Miss rule the glass and make all the big plays. We didn't even spend too much time on our site rehashing it, because it was pretty cut-and-dry.
Confidence for the season opener probably comes from the recent struggles for the St. John's program overall and the belief that Dekker will continue to bloom into a star this season.
But the 3 1/2-point spread doesn't surprise me. Wisconsin won't be in the friendly confines of the Kohl Center and St. John's is strong defensively. As I mentioned before, a poor shooting night could be disastrous for UW because they won't be able to get much going against the Johnnies inside.
Extra: tell New Yorkers why Madison is the best. References to the ice cream at the Union are certainly acceptable. (Disclosure: I love visiting Madison.)
The university itself has a long tradition of transplant students from New York, partly because New Yorkers aren't scared of snow. And if you can stand the winter, the payoff in the summer and fall is well worth it. A night on the Memorial Union terrace and State Street is just one of many must-dos on any visit to Madison.
The boating/lake scene is great, as are football Saturdays. You're surrounded by good beer, great restaurants, regional delights like cheese curds, brats and yeah dude, real ice cream, if that's your thing. It's a neat combo of a huge, flagship university plopped in a medium-sized town that doubles as the state's capitol -- and all the diversity of thought which that entails.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- St. John's vs. Wisconsin game preview + TV info: digging for a golden start in the Dakotas
- Player preview: Jamal Branch, the team's most improved player, looking for consistency
- Player preview: can Max Hooper cure the Red Storm's shooting woes?
- Player preview: Marc-Antoine Bourgault, the missing stroke, and the long hunt for shooting at St. John's
- St. John's vs Humboldt State Lumberjacks photos