This year's Wisconsin men's basketball team has a problem best summed up with one figure:
a) Ryan Evans's career free-throw percentage
b) Cardale Jones's average test score when "playing school"
c) The percentage of Duke fans that cheer for the New York Yankees
d) The Badgers' returning minutes in 2015-16.
Well, I know (d) is true.
So the question naturally arises: are the Badgers due for a rebuilding year?
The easy answer: Bo just reloads. Go ahead and bet against him. I'm in that camp.
Still, this is an almost unprecedented situation. A hallmark of the Bo Ryan program is balance. The Bo Ryan byword -- NEXT -- rings true because for every player leaving the program, there's another ready to contribute right away. With few exceptions, we have been able to look to the upcoming season with a good idea of what to expect. This year? Not so much.
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That said, this coming year isn't completely unprecedented in the Bo Ryan era. There was another season in which the Badgers lost about 60 percent of their minutes and most of their key contributors: 2005.
It was Bo Ryan's fourth year as head coach, when every season brought something new and amazing. First season: unbelievable, out-of-nowhere share of Big Ten title, the first since 1947. Second season: outright Big Ten champs and a Sweet 16. Third season: Devin Harris's Big Ten MVP season and Big Ten tournament champs. Then, 2004-05 brought a surprise run to the Elite Eight and a second-half lead against eventual champion North Carolina.
But that 2005 team lost a lot, including four starters: Mike Wilkinson, Zach Morley, Sharif Chambliss and Clayton Hanson. Of course, there was a star to build around in Alando Tucker, and fellow junior-to-be Kammron Taylor appeared ready to take over the point-guard duties. But beyond those two players, the Badgers had nothing proven ready to come in.
The parallels are pretty obvious. The 2015-16 Badgers similarly return a star to build around in Nigel Hayes and fellow junior Bronson Koenig, who showed last year that he is a high-quality Big Ten point guard. Other than Hayes and Koenig, though, there are several question marks and freshmen.
At first blush, this comparison to the 2005-06 Badgers is a scary one, since that 2005-06 team became one of the least-accomplished in Ryan's tenure. It went 19-12 (the last Badgers squad not to win 20 games) and 9-7 in the Big Ten (though it squeezed into a tie for fourth to keep that famous streak alive). That year, the Badgers made the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed (second-lowest in Ryan's tenure) and were promptly blown out by Arizona. They finished No. 46 in the KenPom rating, making it Ryan's least efficient team. It was also the rare Bo Ryan team that didn't improve over the course of the year: they lost 10 of their last 15 games, including their last four.
But those numbers don't tell the whole story. In fact, the Badgers started 14-2 and reached as high as No. 15 in the AP poll. Heralded freshmen Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry stepped in and contributed right away, as did untested sophomore Michael Flowers. Brian Butch started living up to the hype as a sophomore, and Greg Stiemsma was a solid backup. They were looking good.
Then the roof caved in: both Landry and and Stiemsma were declared academically ineligible for the second semester. This led immediately to one of the biggest upsets of the decade: UW's home loss to lowly North Dakota State. The Badgers won just five games after that.
So the 2005-06 parallel is perhaps not as grim as it might seem. I think there is good reason to believe that among Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Riley Dearring, Andy Van Vliet, Brevin Pritzl, Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen and Khalil Iverson there is enough talent to help Koenig and Hayes make the Badgers contenders in the Big Ten, as they usually are.
There is a lesson: this year's Badgers will not have much margin for error. They need to avoid major injuries and off-court problems. If they don't, Ryan's last (?) season might turn out like that (relatively) disappointing season 10 years ago.