Third-ranked Wisconsin (shown here in a file photo) played without two of its top seven rotation players in Wednesday's exhibition win. Sam Dekker nursed an ankle injury. Duje Dukan, meanwhile, sat out because of a bizarre NCAA rules violation dating to the 2012-13 season.
Richard Mackson/Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
MADISON, Wis. — It’s no stretch to suggest this is the most widely anticipated college basketball season in Wisconsin’s program history.
There’s the preseason top-25 ranking — No. 3 — which is higher than in any previous year. There are two players ranked by ESPN.com among the top six in the sport this season — Frank Kaminsky (No. 1) and Sam Dekker (No. 6). And, of course, there are legitimate visions of snipping down nets in April as national champions for a team unanimously picked to win the rugged Big Ten.
All that is well and good. But whether Wisconsin lives up to such a high billing will be determined in five months. For now, what we know is that the Badgers are a talented team with enough question marks to keep the early season interesting.
During Wisconsin’s 77-40 exhibition drubbing of Division II UW-Parkside on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center, the Badgers played without two of their top seven rotation players. Dekker remained out while nursing a left ankle injury sustained Oct. 24 during a four-on-four drill in practice, though his return is expected soon. Forward Duje Dukan, meanwhile, sat out because of a bizarre NCAA rules violation dating to the 2012-13 season.
That year, Dukan played in an exhibition and a closed scrimmage before opting to redshirt because of an ongoing battle with mono. Dukan was a junior that season, and only freshmen are allowed to play in preseason games before using a redshirt year. Wisconsin had hoped the NCAA would show leniency on the matter, but instead it upheld a suspension.
Dukan’s punishment under NCAA rules is to sit out two games for every game in which he played, which equates to a four-game suspension. He missed an earlier scrimmage against DePaul in addition to Wednesday’s exhibition and will sit out Wisconsin’s first two regular-season games. He will return for the team’s third regular-season game against Green Bay on Nov. 19.
"We were wrong in that the understanding of what’s debilitating and what can qualify in that area, so you move on," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "Duje’s a man. And he’s taking it like a man."
Added Badgers guard Josh Gasser: "I’m not going to say anything about the NCAA or any of that. I don’t really understand it too much. You feel bad for Duje just because he’s waited his turn."
The absence of Dekker and Dukan meant Ryan was forced to use lineups fans likely won’t see during much of the regular season. With 12 minutes left in the first half, for example, Ryan’s rotation consisted of guards Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Riley Dearring and forwards Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ. Three of those players did not play a single minute last season. Later in the second half, one rotation featured Koenig, Showalter, Jordan Smith, Brown and Nigel Hayes.
"One thing you learn in coaching having been around a few years, you play with what you have," Ryan said. "You don’t worry about what you don’t have. You always worry about how to use what you do have.
"Those guys will be back in the lineup soon enough and hopefully what you’re always looking for as a coaching staff is guys trying to take minutes from guys that have some experience. You love competition. Some guys got some minutes tonight and showed some things. And some guys showed some reasons why they’re not playing, why they need work."
Badgers guard Jordan Hill did not play in the exhibition game as well while he considers taking a redshirt season. Hill had been in competition with Showalter for the team’s fourth guard spot in the rotation. Showalter played 17 minutes but missed all three of his field-goal attempts and finished with two points and three rebounds.
The other intriguing position battle involves Brown and Happ for the final frontcourt rotation spot. Happ scored five points on 2 of 7 shooting with five rebounds in 12 minutes. Brown scored four points on 2 of 4 shooting with two rebounds in 14 minutes.
"It was a mixed bag," Ryan said. "They were aggressive. But sometimes you rush trying to impress, trying to make things happen. They just needed to get their mind and body working at the same speed, on the same page. I like their activity, that’s for sure."
Despite the question marks surrounding the team early in the season, there were several positive developments. Hayes tallied a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Point guard Traevon Jackson scored 15 points and Gasser 11. And Kaminsky, the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year, tallied a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes and clearly was the best player on the floor.
The hype surrounding the program this season is matched only by the expectations centering on Kaminsky, who this week was featured in both ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated.
"It’s kind of weird seeing how many people say all these different things," Kaminsky said. "I know it’s getting annoying for myself just with Twitter and emailing and stuff like that. I’m just excited for the season to start so maybe some of that will go away."
The same can be said for Wisconsin’s team, which is ready to show why it deserves such high praise, when it opens the regular season Nov. 14 against Northern Kentucky.
Hayes update: Last week, it was announced Hayes had become a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the NCAA and the five major conferences over adequate compensate for student-athletes. A CBSSports.com report noted that the plaintiffs wanted to end NCAA rules that "prohibit, cap or otherwise limit remuneration and benefits" to football and men’s basketball players in those leagues.
Hayes was asked for the first time following Wednesday’s game to address the matter.
"I am currently unable to speak upon that right now," Hayes said, "so any questions concerning that more than likely will probably be a no comment until I’m further notified when I can speak upon it."
Ryan, meanwhile, said he’s been an advocate on compensation for athletes for quite some time. The question, however, is how to discern which athletes in which sports should be compensated and how much they should earn.
"There’s so many things that have to be ironed out," Ryan said. "It’s a hard position to be in. But if there are people that feel a certain way and somebody’s diving on the floor for us in practice and being a good teammate and working hard and all that, that’s all we care about. That’s what we are. We’re teachers. We’re coaches. And we want young men who have feelings and have ideas about things. That’s fine.
"We make sure when we’re on the practice court that we’re with the team and we’re doing things to help us be a better basketball team. But I’m not going to coach robots. I’m not going to coach guys that I have to say everything that you do has to be this way. So Nigel made a move. Let’s see how it turns out. But he’s ready for 2014-15. That’s all I know."