LOCATION: Madison, WI
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
LAST SEASON: 22-10 (.688)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 9-7 (t-3rd)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 2/3
COLORS: Cardinal & White
HOMECOURT: Kohl Center (17,142)
COACH: Dick Bennett (Ripon '65)
record at school 69-54 (4 years)
career record 429-243 (23 years)
ASSISTANTS: Brad Soderberg (UW-Stevens Pt. '85)|
Shawn Hood (Cleveland State '88)
Brian Hecker (Indiana '90)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 13-17-18-12-22
RPI (last 5 years) 102-67-36-101-16
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in NCAA first round.
A school-record 22 victories for Wisconsin? What's going on in the world of college basketball? . . . So much for the idea that a gorgeous campus in the state capital is mainly a hockey school. For all its fight and impressive play last season, Dick Bennett's program has plenty to prove. It finished the conference season on a swoon, then was squashed, 43-32, by Southwest Missouri State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. No one can question the Badgers' heart or their commitment to play great defense the only kind Bennett will ever accept. Yet, games are won by outscoring opponents, a feat that often takes at least a point a minute in most leagues. It's embarrassing when a school's football team scores more than its basketball squad. That's what happened too often last season with Barry Alvarez's offense, led by tailback Ron Dayne, and Bennett's attack, led by shooting guard Sean Mason. Mason averaged a team-high 16.8 points and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection. He was the only Wisconsin player who could get his own shot consistently and the only scary option from long-range. With several other Badgers, you never knew if a launch was an air ball or an errant pass. The other significant loss was Mason's backcourt partner, point guard Ty Calderwood. He never quite regained the form he showed at the end of 1997, when he led Wisconsin to a dramatic upset of Big Ten champion Minnesota.
After sitting out an entire season with a knee injury, Calderwood returned and became the team's No. 2 scorer with 9.3 points per game and top playmaker (3.3 apg). If someone had said the Badgers would ever be ranked No. 11 in the country, as they were last season with the nation's sixth-toughest schedule, or would roll to seven straight conference victories, you would've thought they'd been partying too long in a city not known for sobriety. That's what happened with the nation's No. 2 defense and a unit that led the Big Ten for a third straight year. The question is: Can Wisconsin possibly be better this season or anywhere near as good? If it is, some players will have to become heroes or Bennett will need the best coaching performance of his career, no small achievement. Guard Hennssy Auriantal, a defensive specialist, and spunky David Burkemper also departed. But the Badgers aren't completely stripped in the backcourt. They return last season's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 6-3 junior guard Mike Kelley (4.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 86 assists, 62 steals). He tied Ohio State's Scoonie Penn with 1.94 steals per game and had an unbelievable assist-turnover ratio of 4.3 to 1. If Wisconsin takes on Kelley's personality this season, it can win a lot of games even if the final score is often 46-44. Jon Bryant (6.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg), a 6-2 senior and a 1998 transfer from St. Cloud State, is a dangerous long-range shooter (.387 3 PT). His 22-point effort against Iowa is proof of what a quick trigger can produce. And 6-5 senior Duany Duany (2.6 ppg, 0.9 rpg) an erratic marksman, is another experienced option. They might both be backups sooner than later if Roy Boone, a 6-2 transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, is half as good as expected. Boone is billed as an explosive scorer, just what Wisconsin needs. And he can be an excellent defender, a must in Bennett's system if he has any plans of leaving the bench. Boone is a hometown product from Madison East High School, where he averaged 28.0 points his senior year. Boone might have signed with Wisconsin out of high school, but didn't qualify academically. So he headed for Coffeyville, where he averaged 14.0 points as a sophomore. The other backcourt option is 5-10 sophomore point guard Travon Davis (1.1 ppg, 0.6 rpg), who played just 37 minutes last season but is the Badgers' best penetrator. He spent more time with Bennett over the summer when the Big Ten's touring team went to Austria. Don't be surprised if Wisconsin's frontcourt is the strength of this year's team. After relying on a perimeter game for any semblance of offense, look for Wisconsin to take the ball inside and actually do something with it besides kill the clock. Andy Kowske (6.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .574 FG) led the Badgers in rebounds and blocked shots last season. The 6-8 junior power forward started 32 games and was one of his team's toughest competitors. If he continues to develop in all areas, he could be one of the league's better inside players by the time he leaves. The other inside players with experience are 6-9 sophomore forward Mark Vershaw and 6-8 sophomore forward Charlie Wills. Vershaw (7.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg) is Wisconsin's top returning scorer and most gifted offensive player, Bennett said. Wills (4.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) started 15 times as a freshman and sets aggressive screens. Making the move to the perimeter is 6-7 junior Maurice Linton (2.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg). With increased shooting range and strength, he might be ready to realize the potential he flashed in the 1998 Big Ten Tournament. Also hoping to make an impact are a pair of freshmen: 6-6 Julian Swartz, last year's high school player of the year in Wisconsin, and 6-5 Kirk Penney, a native of New Zealand. Swartz, from South High School in Waukesha, averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 rebounds as a senior. He was South's all-time leading scorer with 2,129 career points. Penney could be quite a find. He played for Bennett's son Tony on a club team in New Zealand. Competing in the 20-under Australian championships last summer, Penney averaged 32.0 points in six games. Wisconsin coaches say he's a big-time scorer, able to shoot from the perimeter or go to the basket. Two other newcomers are on the roster, but probably won't be counted on for major contributions this season. Dave Mader, a 6-11, 240-pound center from Appleton (Wisc.) East High, could be redshirted. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds as a senior. Robert Smith, a 6-8 junior, is a transfer from Wisconsin-Whitewater who redshirted last season.
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT C- BENCH/DEPTH C|
FRONTCOURT B- INTANGIBLES B-
Not everyone can play for Dick Bennett. And that's meant as a compliment. But there's a chance this group will play better than expected, especially by the time the conference schedule begins. The Badgers' nonconference lineup includes games with Rhode Island, Temple, Texas, Wake Forest, Missouri, Syracuse or Princeton, UW-Green Bay, South Florida and Marquette. By January, look for Bennett to have things sorted out and have his distinctive stamp on the playing group, as well as those who'll be watching the rest of the season. Yes, running back Ron Dayne will probably average more points this fall than any Wisconsin basketball player will this winter. Chances are, he will also take a few more tough shots than any point guard. Don't expect another 22 victories, but look for the Badgers to make their opponents work for every victory.
|The 19th edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is on sale now. To order, call 800-828-HOOP (4667), or visit their web site at