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McCue: Ryan may start guard-heavy lineup next season

first_imgKelsey Fenton / The Badger HeraldThe hangover has faded, all but disappeared. Spring football and an intriguing quarterback battle has replaced the dark memories of a certain game in Kansas City that’s buried in the furthest reaches of every Wisconsin fan’s mind after less than three weeks.Like every college socialite who pledges to never again let alcohol come within temptation’s reach the morning after a particularly rowdy night on State Street only to renege on that promise the following night, it’s amazing how quickly fans can forget such sour memories. With the mourning period of Wisconsin’s ugly loss to Ole Miss in its opening game of the NCAA tournament finished, it’s time to look forward with unbridled optimism, to let imaginations run wild with what could be.Such is the cycle of sports and even my own cynical mind is not averse to dreaming about what the near future holds for Wisconsin men’s basketball. Though this may be the natural mental cycle for any overcommitted sports fan, the combination of experience and raw talent returning has set the stakes enticingly high for next season.Much of that bubbling optimism can be credited to one player: Sam Dekker. As a true freshman, he was the Badgers’ most efficient scorer and managed to fulfill the promise he came in with as one of the country’s top 20 recruits. Despite ranking sixth on the team in minutes (22.3 per game), his 9.6 points per game were just 1.5 below that of UW’s leading scorer, junior guard Ben Brust.The even more telling number was 47.8 percent, Dekker’s team-leading field goal percentage. Pair that with a 40.7 percent conversion rate from three-point territory in the regular season, fifth-best in the Big Ten and a full percentage point better than Brust, who still earned a reputation as Wisconsin’s most dangerous sharpshooter.More importantly, anyone who watches Dekker for any significant period sees the potential for him to become an offensive anchor in 2013-14, the kind of pure scorer this year’s team lacked. It’s no coincidence that he led the team in shooting percentage. His refreshing aggression and ability to create his own shot opened up lanes to the hoop and gave him higher percentage looks closer to the basket.But Dekker must first be given a leash long enough to allow him to showcase his rare offensive talent. It was no secret Dekker’s flaky defense kept him from starting as a freshman, and though head coach Bo Ryan should have no reason to hold him back next year, it’s about the only thing that could keep him from a breakout sophomore campaign. If Dekker doesn’t lead the team in scoring (and even shot attempts) next year, it would be a surprise.Next most important on the list of returnees is junior guard Josh Gasser. After missing his entire junior campaign, Gasser is not critical to this team so much for his scoring ability, but for the stabilizing presence he brings to the floor. He is the grandfather-like figure, the calming voice in the huddle when the Badgers are down 10 on the road in a decisive conference game late in the season. As a sophomore two years ago, Gasser was on the floor more than 80 percent of the time.His 7.6 points and 1.9 assists per game should both improve in his third year as a starter. While his point totals are not overwhelming, he can drive to the basket with regularity – a skill that was in short supply on this year’s team. Now sharing the hardwood with an electric scorer like Dekker, Gasser should become an even distributor as he becomes more comfortable manning the point.By now you may be wondering why I haven’t made more than a brief mention of Brust. He will be a key accessory in next year’s backcourt, but if the offense operates as planned, he should be Wisconsin’s third scoring option. He can be an absolute lights-out shooter, especially when he gets his feet set – like the Badgers’ version of Nik Stauskas.Yet Brust was often reluctant to penetrate the lane instead of settling for an outside look (61.5 percent of his shot attempts were three-pointers this season) and is best suited for a “pure shooter” role with Gasser back in the lineup. He is the type of player who will erupt on a few nights for 20-plus points and keep opposing defenses honest by forcing them to defend beyond the three-point arc.Next comes a player who best fits the “wild card” designation: junior forward Frank Kaminsky. Still a slender 230 pounds, the 6-foot-11 forward is the closest thing Wisconsin will have to a true scoring threat in the post next year.He is by no stretch a traditional big man, but if Kaminsky trades in his trigger-happy three-pointers for better looks in the paint, he could become a dynamic offensive player who creates serious matchup issues. He is by far the least experienced of the five probable starters, averaging just more than 10 minutes per game in 2012-13, and needs to make bigger strides than any other projected starter for this unit to shift into its highest gear.Leading the race for that fifth spot on the floor is Traevon Jackson. Jackson, a shooting guard by trade, did an admirable job taking on the starting point guard spot after Gasser went down. The sophomore also never shied away from the big moment, hitting game-winning shots against Penn State and Minnesota.The guard-heavy rotation seems like the best option unless incoming freshman Nigel Hayes or Vitto Brown show they are well ahead of the steep freshman curve – unlikely considering even Dekker did not pass that test. Aside from the relatively inexperienced Kaminsky, each of these players has averaged at least 6.9 points per game. Together, this could bring a sizable jump in offensive production (dare I say, more than 70 points a game?) for a team that unraveled due to a complete lack of consistent scoring.Let the visions of Dekker’s high-flying slams off a nifty no-look pass from Gasser and followed by a punch-in-the-gut deep three-pointer by Brust take hold. Because this is the season of speculation, and with the NCAA tournament finished, what else are we supposed to do?The cycle turns on.Ian is a senior majoring in journalism. What are your predictions for next year’s basketball team? Let him know by email at imccue@badgerherald.com or on Twitter @imccue.last_img read more