Though Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has a predominantly young roster to work with, he’s optimistic that his holdovers have enough experience to help the Badgers build on one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Ryan and the 25th-ranked Badgers open the 2008-09 season on Sunday with a matchup against Long Beach State at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin entered last season unranked and wasn’t considered to be a contender in the Big Ten. The Badgers, however, disproved critics by posting school records in overall wins (31) and league victories (16) en route to capturing the program’s third conference crown in seven years.
The Badgers, who became the fifth team in Big Ten history to win both the conference championship and tournament, made their 10th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament but fell to Davidson in the round of 16.
Wisconsin, though, will have a different look this season. The Badgers, who are one of three Big Ten teams ranked in the AP poll, were picked to finish third in the conference.
Leading scorer Brian Butch and guard Michael Flowers, who combined to average 22.0 points last season, have both graduated. Six juniors and seniors round out a roster that boasts 11 underclassmen, but Ryan doesn’t believe his squad will be at a disadvantage.
“When you say leadership, we’ve got leadership,” Ryan said. “The players have shown that and now I’m not as concerned with it.”
Ryan has reason to be confident as starters Trevon Hughes - second on the team with 11.2 points per game in 2007-08 - and Joe Krabbenhoft (7.6) return, as well as top reserve Jason Bohannon (8.2).
He’ll also rely on preseason all-conference selection Marcus Landry, who finished third on the Badgers in points (10.8) and rebounds (5.4) last season. Landry averaged 12.0 points and 7.3 boards in three conference tournament games to earn most outstanding player honors.
“Marcus fits in that mold of being a guy that’s learned quite a few things, and it’s his turn to make sure that the other guys learn from what he does,” Ryan said. “He still has things he has to do, just like Joe and the rest of the guys, but he’s come a long way from his freshman year.”
Wisconsin didn’t overwhelm teams offensively in 2007-08, averaging 67.3 points. The Badgers, however, boasted the best scoring defense in the nation as they allowed just 54.4 points.
Wisconsin was also dominant at the Kohl Center, where it has won 10 straight openers. The Badgers went 16-2 there last season, improving to 107-7 at home the past seven seasons under Ryan.
They’ll be looking to continue that home-court success and win their seventh straight season opener when they meet Long Beach State (0-1) for the first time. The 49ers opened their season with a 75-65 loss at Brigham Young on Friday night.
Donovan Morris - a preseason first-team all-Big West selection - had a team-high 13 points after leading Long Beach State with 21.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game en route to earning first-team all-conference honors in 2007-08.
Stephan Gilling scored 12 and Cornel Williams added 11 points and 10 rebounds Friday for Long Beach State, which finished 6-25 last season after posting a 24-8 record and winning the conference title in 2006-07.
Coach Dan Monson’s team, which went 1-15 on the road last season, has lost 11 straight to ranked opponents since beating then-No. 25 New Mexico State 84-83 at home on Feb. 24, 1994.