In the weeks and months leading up to the start of practices in October, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest teams, players and stories for the 2014-15 NCAA college basketball season. Each team has one burning question we’ll take a look at.
Consider this a PSA of sorts. The Wisconsin Badgers are at the top of the college basketball landscape and may not being falling for a while.
Frank The Tank. Normally, this name is associated with Will Ferrell’s character in the delightful film known as Old School.However, that may change rather quickly if last season was any indication.
Already having won against Florida early in the season, the Badgers hosted North Dakota, a team literally without a mascot. It was supposed to be a blowout, but what happened instead was something that makes myths into legends. Though Wisconsin did win by 18, it was the scoring display of Frank Kaminsky that caught the eyes of the nation.
Dropping 43 points, shooting 16-of-19 from the field and a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range, the legend of Frank The Tank, college basketball edition, was born.
In just his fourth game as a starter for the Badgers, Kaminsky’s name started circulating around college basketball media and on social media. The same player that averaged a combined six points during his first two season was dropping big stat lines, and he didn’t slow down.
He finished the year averaging 13.9 points per game, shot 52 percent from the field overall, including 37 percent from 3, hauled in more than six rebounds per game and swatted away just less than two opponent shots per game. Once a nobody, Kaminsky was now a somebody.
Wisconsin, as a team, had a very solid year as well. They began the season with a 16-0 record before losing five of their next six contests, but finished off the season with a 26-7 record heading into the NCAA tournament, earning themselves a No. 2 seed in the West Region.
Bo Ryan’s teams aren’t normally known for fun basketball, but the 2013-14 Badgers were a different story. Aside from their 40-point drubbing of American in the second round, Wisconsin played in some of the best games through the tournament, including a thriller against Oregon in the third round and an overtime nail biter against Arizona.
This led the Badgers to the Final Four for the first time in Ryan’s tenure.
Their Final Four matchup as another exciting encounter that saw two of the hottest teams in the country going at it. One led but a group of freshmen that weren’t expected to be in school the next season in Kentucky, and Wisconsin, the team where if you didn’t graduate and weren’t on the team the next year, something major happened.
In this back-and-forth encounter, however, Kentucky came away victorious, escaping with a 74-73 victory to reach the national championship game.
Wisconsin’s season may have ended on that Saturday night, but it may have started something great.
Ben Brust, the team’s second leading scorer behind Kaminsky and appointed sharpshooter, is no longer available, but the rest of the team is back and may be more dangerous than ever.
Kaminsky passed on a potential selection in the 2014 NBA Draft to return to school, pairing himself with Sam Dekker, who may actually be a better player than Frank The Tank. Dekker spent some time this summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy and was acknowledged as the most impressive player at the camp by those in attendance.
Dekker, a versatile 6’7″ wing who’s still growing, gives Wisconsin a scoring option, as much attention will be paid to Kaminsky this year.
Another player to keep an eye on is Nigel Hayes, who many see as the next breakout star in waiting for the Badgers. The lengthy forward could bulk up a bit, but he’s got a nice first step and long arms.
He’ll be one to help relieve the pressure off of Kaminsky and Dekker, both of whom will see their names on preseason All-American lists.
In the backcourt with the departure of Burst gives an opening to Josh Gasser, who shot better than 43 percent from 3 last season. He’ll be a go-to shooter for Wisconsin.
His running mate will be Traevon Jackson, who showed some serious stones at times last year with timely shooting late in close games. In total, the projected starting five for the Badgers will feature three players that averaged double-digit scoring last season (Kaminsky, Dekker and Jackson) and two players who will fill in and do what’s necessary to win (Hayes and Gasser).
That’s the usual makeup for a Ryan-led team.
Two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. That’s some good experience to have if you want to contend for a national title, especially with some potentially huge games coming up during their 2014-15 schedule.
During their non-conference schedule, Wisconsin will make a lap around the state, taking on Green Bay, Milwaukee and Marquette, with the latter two being road tests. The Badgers beat Green Bay last season on the road by only three points.
There’s also this little tournament known as the Battle 4 Atlantis. You may have heard of it, it’s only the most compelling preseason tournament in the world (world because this one is played in the Bahamas).
Wisconsin’s potential opponents include the Florida Gators in the semifinal and any one of Butler, Oklahoma, UCLA or North Carolina in the championship game. The Gators, Tar Heels and Sooners will all be ranked before the season and could be ranked in the top 10. Those aren’t cupcakes.
The Badgers know they have the shot to do something special and want to prove it to themselves early.
Another matchup for Wisconsin comes via the Big Ten-ACC challenge as they host Duke on Dec. 3. There’s no telling what the Blue Devils will do in their first month of games, but they’ll likely start the year ranked in the top five.
It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.
Then comes conference play in the Big Ten, which is one of the top conferences in the country. Wisconsin will be the favorite to win the conference, but there are plenty of teams that can give them a hard time.
These teams include Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota. The first five schools made trips to the NCAA tournament last season as well, with the two Michigan schools advancing to the Elite Eight.
Minnesota is the reigning NIT champion and have Gopher fans excited. Nothing comes easy in the B1G, and when you have a giant bullseye on your back like the Badgers do, every game matters.
The legend of Frank The Tank kicked off the season for Wisconsin last time around, and now that legend continues to grow. All eyes are on Kaminsky, but it’ll be the play of Dekker, Hayes, Jackson and Gasser that helps determine how far the Badgers can go this year.
With the parity in college basketball being more evident than ever, Bo Ryan has the ultimate advantage: he doesn’t focus on highly rated recruits, he brings in players that fit his system. It’s worked for years but the Final Four run was his first, perhaps his first of many.
With how things have gone withe freshmen leading teams against veteran teams, this could be Wisconsin’s best shot to make something remarkable happen. However, the target is on their back.
How they respond to that will be the ultimate key.