After a sluggish start to the 2012-13 season, Wisconsin finds itself (as usual) near the top of the Big Ten standings at 4-2 (13-6 overall). With an athletic/talent level a notch beneath some of the other high-profile programs in the conference, much of the credit goes to coach Bo Ryan, who may be one of the better coaches in the country, especially when it comes to getting the most performance out of his players. Few coaches can coach his players to continually play strong defense, be efficient on offense, and take care of the basketball the way Ryan can.
This season’s version of the Badgers knew they had some holes to plug; perhaps none bigger than PG Jordan Taylor who graduated last spring. Junior Josh Gasser, last season’s off-guard, was poised to take over the reigns of point guard, but he suffered an ACL injury during practice and will miss the entire season. Freshman George Marshall opened the season at the point, but struggled to score and take care of the basketball.
Enter Traevon Jackson, the son of former Ohio State and NBA standout, Jimmy Jackson. Not highly regarded coming-out of high school and viewed primarily as a role player upon his commitment to Wisconsin, Jackson isn’t a stat-sheet-stuffer, but is one of the primary reasons that the Badgers are in contention for the Big Ten regular-season crown.
The 6’2” sophomore has been a stabilizing factor for the Badgers. He isn’t a flashy player that is going to make the spectacular pass or light-up the scoreboard, but has shown leadership qualities on the court and has been the conservative, take-care-of-the-basketball point guard that Wisconsin needed to run its offense.
Jackson is averaging just 5.6 ppg through the first 19 games (a starter the last 13), but has dished-out 44 assists versus 31 turnovers, and has contributed 20 steals on defense. With his minutes increasing and given a measure of confidence by Ryan, he has been more aggressive on the offensive end, getting several shots off-dribble and via penetration, as well as getting to the foul-line and converting (78% FT%).
Granted the Badgers have had one of the more softer schedules in the early going of the conference schedule, but they did upend Indiana on the road and are capable of beating anyone at the Kohl Center. With Jackson’s improved play, there is certainly more optimism for Wisconsin than they had after the first month of the season.
With most teams having at least five conference games under their belt, the standings are beginning to shake themselves out. After the Badgers’ tough 49-47 loss to Michigan State last night, two Saturday (Jan 26) match-ups loom, (Minnesota @ Wisconsin and Michigan State @ Indiana.
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan 2. Indiana 3. Michigan State 4. Minnesota 5. Wisconsin 6. Ohio State 7. Illinois 8. Iowa 9. Purdue 10. Northwestern 11. Nebraska 12. Penn State