This is finally the year. Bo Ryan's star is gone, the guy that has done everything for the Badgers over the last few seasons: Run the team, take care of the ball, score when necessary, lead and also make his teammates effective.
Without Jordan Taylor, the Badgers will finally come down to earth.
"We're going to be a different team," Ryan said.
But I'm here to tell you that Wisconsin won't fall off a bit. In fact, the Badgers could be even more successful this season even after losing their star point guard.
Ryan turned his program in Madison into a sure-thing since taking over more than a decade ago. Eleven seasons at the helm, 11 NCAA tournament showings. My colleague, Gary Parrish, has one steadfast rule when sifting through rosters and putting together the Preseason Top 25 (and one): Make sure Ryan's Badgers are included. Somewhere. I'm with him.
Taylor led the team in scoring, assists, minutes, 3-pointers, steals and numerous other categories. He was a maestro at using the ball-screen, almost always making the correct decisions and rarely wasting a possession. Ryan Evans had a solid season, averaging 11 points per game. Big man Jared Berggren came a long way and put up 10.5 points and 4.9 boards, but both Evans and Berggren - along with fellow starters Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz -- were the beneficiaries of Taylor's unselfishness and ability to get them in spot where they could be successful.
OK, enough about Taylor. He's gone (hopefully earning a spot on an NBA roster). Ryan still has four starters back - Evans, Berggren, Gasser and Bruesewitz -- and also brings back key reserve Ben Brust. The Badgers will rely on Chicago native George Marshall to come in and replace Taylor at the point and will add one of the most talented freshmen in the entire country in versatile wing Sam Dekker.
"He's not going to wow you," Ryan said of the 6-foot-7 1/2 Dekker.
He blew me away last summer. This is a kid that has the ability to do it all. He can make shots from the perimeter, put it on the floor and use his deceptive athleticism to finish above the basket -- and he also plays with a passion and energy that is enjoyable to watch.
"He finds a way to make basketball plays," Ryan said. "He's good at a lot of things."
Count me as a card-carrying member of the Sam Dekker Fan Club. However, Ryan won't need Dekker to come in and set the world on fire this season. With the core of the team back in the fold, Dekker can ease his way into the lineup, likely while coming off the bench. He'll earn his stripes -- and it won't take long for people to realize he's the most talented player on this team.
Ryan is intent on getting more production out of the post -- from Berggren and 6-foot-11 sophomore Frank Kaminsky. "He shoot the hell out of it," Ryan said of Kaminsky. "He can score inside and out."
This team will be deeper than a year ago. The only other loss, besides Taylor, was that of reserve Rob Wilson. He averaged just 13 minutes per game last season.
"Only time will tell what Jordan actually meant to us," Ryan said.
He was a star, the face of the program for the last few years, but his departure won't alter the fact that Ryan's program still belongs in the Preseason Top 25 -- and will make yet another appearance in the NCAA tournament.