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October 24, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 13 Wisconsin

STRENGTHS: Wisconsin's main strength is senior Jordan Taylor, who is perhaps the best point guard in the country. With a handful of veterans gone, even more will be on Taylor's shoulders than before. He has shown he can handle it. Taylor's top performance last season was scoring 21 second-half points in an upset of then-unbeaten Ohio State. He led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.83-to-1), and Wisconsin led the nation in that category as a team. Teaming in the backcourt with Taylor is Josh Gasser. He didn't have gaudy overall numbers last season, but he didn't need to. He did have the Badgers' first triple-double, with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 12 rebounds against Northwestern. Gasser scored in double figures six times against Big Ten opponents, something that's going to need to happen on a more regular basis this season. Mike Bruesewitz has been a reliable high-energy guy, but now the Badgers are counting him to be the leader in the frontcourt on a full-time basis.

F/C Jared Berggren (6-10/235, Jr.)
F Mike Bruesewitz (6-6/222, Jr.)
G/F Ryan Evans (6-6/210, Jr.)
G Josh Gasser (6-3/190, Soph.)
G Jordan Taylor (6-1/195, Sr.)
C Evan Anderson (6-10/260, R-Fr.)
F Jarrod Uthoff (6-9/200, Fr.)
G Ben Brust (6-1/190, Soph.)
G/F Rob Wilson (6-4/200, Sr.)

Coach: Bo Ryan (11th season at Wisconsin)
Last season's record: 25-9 overall, 13-5 in Big Ten (3rd in league)
Postseason: Lost to Butler in regional semifinal
Final regular-season RPI: 16th
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 1998
[More on Wisconsin: Go to BadgerBlitz.com]

WEAKNESSES: The frontcourt sustained the most losses, with Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz gone. Leuer was the only Badgers player to average more than five rebounds per game. To fill these spots, Wisconsin is looking to a handful of unproven veterans. Jared Berggren is a skinny 6-10 forward looking to take over for Leuer. Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson will compete for the wing spot in the rotation. Both are veterans who have been deep on the bench so far in their careers. Wisconsin's depth also will be tested in the backcourt. Ben Brust is a good shooter, but he played only 15 games last season. Taylor is a sure bet to be one of the best players in the country, and Bruesewitz and Gasser should build on past successes. The question for Wisconsin is how the various role players shake out.

OVERVIEW: Ever wonder how Wisconsin exceeds most expectations on an annual basis? Look at all the little things. The Badgers led the nation in free-throws shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and had the fewest turnovers (7.6 per game) by a wide margin. In a change of pace, Wisconsin will be a targeted team this season. Ohio State (which split with Wisconsin last season) is the favorite in the Big Ten, but the Badgers are in the title mix. This isn't necessarily a young team, but the Badgers are long on unproven players. How players such as Bruesewitz and Gasser transition from role players to starters and how the remainder of the roster steps up to take roles will determine how far Wisconsin goes this season.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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