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Cory Jennerjohn: Look out NCAA, the Badgers could be even better next year

Sam Dekker was arguably the most talented recruit Bo Ryan has ever landed. Next year he will prove why.
Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team just got done proving everyone wrong. The multifaceted offense led the Badgers to the Final Four — just the third Final Four in school history.

But next year they could be even better.

I know, you’re probably saying that’s ridiculous and you also might be saying that I’m minimalizing what this team just did.

But remember this team is one of the most efficient teams in the nation, has a gaggle of players that can score and most importantly is only losing one guy that’s a part of the regular rotation in starting shooting guard Ben Brust.

First of all, we have to start at the beginning of last season. The biggest weakness coming into last year was the frontcourt depth. Frank Kaminsky was an unproven big man having played in limited action after averaging only three shots a game as a sophomore. In one offseason, Kaminsky not only became more offensively assertive but he also came out of his shell as he often would quip with the media.

After owning the West Regional of this year’s NCAA tournament, “Frank the Tank” became a national catchphrase. His footwork, ball fakes and his ability to absorb contact were phenomenal as he averaged 23.5 points in two games.

Add in a guy like Nigel Hayes, who is going to add some USDA beef to his frame, and the starting frontcourt looks great. Hayes is a perfect complement to Kaminsky. Hayes will not go out to the three-point like Kaminsky but Hayes has the trampoline-jumping legs for a follow-up slam at any point.

The frontcourt was the strength coming into this season and it will be the strength once again next year. Josh Gasser is the perfect elder statesman to lead by example. Teammates know how far he’s come after tearing his left ACL in 2012 and playing with a bulky brace this year. His job as the defensive stopper will remain and even though he’s not known to chirp a lot on the floor, he will need to make his voice heard more next year.

Coach Bo Ryan will have a tough point guard battle on his hands. Traevon Jackson only had an assist-turnover ratio of 1.06 when the Badgers lost five of six in January and February. But he turned it around during the NCAA tournament with a 1.90 mark. Then there is Bronson Koenig. This kid showed why the Badgers’ staff was so pumped when he committed after getting offers from Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Marquette. He’s a purer shooter than Jackson and can get it off quicker. But Jackson still has unconscionable late-game ability with four game-winning or game-tying shots.

But despite all that, the biggest X-factor heading into next season is by far Sam Dekker. Coming into this year, Dekker was on many NBA draft lottery lists. But after having an up-and-down season that saw him score 15 points at Northwestern on 7 of 10 shooting, he followed that up with an eight point clunker on 2 of 12 shooting vs. Iowa. However, I believe this will be the summer of Sam. He will draw on how much Kaminsky progressed and how much his confidence soared and will use that to get much better.

Dekker is arguably the most talented player Ryan has ever recruited. He is an excellent point-forward that sees the floor, attacks the basket, mixes it up in the paint with guys much bigger than him and he can shoot from the perimeter. Dekker is the reason this team will be better because I don’t see a Bo Ryan-coached team letting someone like Dekker remain content.

With Dekker’s slashing and pure scoring ability, Kaminsky’s paint and perimeter presence, Hayes’ mid-range and jumping game, Jackson’s intestinal fortitude, Gasser’s gritty defense and Koenig’s playmaking and this team will be better.

And as an added bonus there’s super sub Duje Dukan. Coaches would absolutely love to bring back someone that has experience. Dukan has Final Four experience as he made a couple huge threes and grabbed five boards in only 15 minutes. Add in a more experienced and more confident Vitto Brown and the Wisconsin bench will be solid.

The toughest job will be on Ryan as to how he plans on doling out minutes. Because on a team this balanced and this good, that could be the biggest challenge.

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