In Bo Ryan's 11 seasons as head coach at Wisconsin, the Badgers have never finished lower in the Big Ten standings than a tie for fourth.
To extend that streak this season, they must overcome a season-ending injury suffered by perhaps their most indispensable player.
Junior Josh Gasser, the first Badger to start as a freshman since Alando Tucker in the 2002-03 season, suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice Saturday. Gasser had been expected to replace Jordan Taylor at point guard after starting alongside Taylor at wing the past two seasons.
While forward Ryan Evans and big man Jared Berggren are probably Wisconsin's best returning players and freshman Sam Dekker may be the most promising, Gasser's contributions will not be easily replaced. He isn't the dynamic offensive star predecessors Trevon Hughes and Taylor were, but he averaged 7.6 points, shot a team-high 45.2 percent from behind the arc last season, guarded the opponent's best player and showed the toughness, work ethic and good decision making Ryan values.
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The best option to replace Gasser in the starting lineup is probably redshirt freshman George Marshall, who earned praise from teammates and coaches last season with his hard work on the scout team. The Chicago native averaged 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game as a senior in high school, leading his team to the city's famed Public League title.
Options besides Marshall are definitely limited. Sophomore guard Traevon Jackson will likely see more playing time than he would have otherwise.
It would be foolish to count out Wisconsin giving Ryan's track record of success, but the challenges for the Badgers are certainly beginning to mount.
They're already without forward Mike Bruesewitz due to the deep laceration he suffered careening into the basket stanchion earlier this month. They're also in a league expected to be easily the toughest in the nation. And now they're doing it without their starting point guard, maybe the guy they could least afford to lose.
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