MADISON, Wis. — Expectations for Wisconsin’s men’s basketball program have never been higher. And preseason top-25 rankings continue to reflect the team’s lofty status.
On Friday, Wisconsin entered the Associated Press preseason top-25 poll at No. 3, behind only No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Arizona. It marks the Badgers’ highest preseason ranking ever. They received eight first-place votes but trail Arizona by 35 points in the poll. Duke and Kansas round out the top five.
Wisconsin returns seven of its top eight rotation players, including starters Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky, a 7-foot center, is the Big Ten preseason player of the year, while Dekker also was named as a preseason first-team all-conference member. Kaminsky led the team last season in points (13.9) and rebounds per game (6.3). Dekker, meanwhile, ranked third in scoring (12.4 points) and second in rebounding (6.1).
Other key returners include point guard Bronson Koenig, forward Duje Dukan and last year’s Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, Nigel Hayes, who is expected to step into the starting lineup.
The Badgers’ highest previous preseason ranking in the AP poll was No. 9 before the 2006-07 season. Last year’s team opened at No. 20 and reached No. 3 in the country after beginning the season 16-0.
Wisconsin is a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten title for the first time in 14 seasons under Badgers coach Bo Ryan. But Ryan insists that nothing will change in the way he coaches or the way his players handle the spotlight compared to other seasons.
"As far as the expectations and everything else, most of the players that are playing in the Big Ten played in high schools where their teams were targeted, where their teams were marked," Ryan said during the Big Ten’s annual media day earlier this month. "So I think they’re kind of used to that kind of attention to where it doesn’t affect how hard they know they need to work.
"What I’ve seen so far in practice is they’re practicing the same way they have those couple years (they were) under the radar, so to speak. They’re practicing every bit as hard as that, if not more."