Wisconsin Basketball: Ranking Badgers' Most Likely March Madness Heroes
This season, the Wisconsin Badgers have been involved in a close game what feels like every night they step on the hardwood. Naturally, in games that go down to the final buzzer, a hero has to emerge.
For three consecutive Big Ten games, Wisconsin went to overtime, but that was only a sample size of the down-to-the-wire battles the Badgers fought this season. Even though they have hit a bump in the road to close out conference play, the Badgers defense has kept them in just about every game, putting players in a situation where they have the opportunity to send their fans home happy.
There's no question Wisconsin needs to regain its touch from outside and shoot better overall as a team for that elite defense to matter, but it is bound to find itself in at least one more nail-biter before the curtains close on the 2012-13 season.
As far as who will have the ball in their hands as the final seconds tick, let's rank who will be the most likely to play the role of hero this March.
4. Jared Berggren
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We'll begin with the only senior to crack these rankings: forward Jared Berggren. As far as the Big Ten all-conference team is concerned, Berggren has been receiving plenty of consideration because of his spectacular defense around the basket, and he is also the team's leading scorer.
Typically, Berggren isn't the guy who gets his name called at the end of the game, but that doesn't mean he can't be a hero come tournament time. Berggren's presence near the rim has a huge impact on what the opponent wants to do, and blocking a shot at the buzzer to seal a victory certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility.
This season, Berggren's three-point shooting has taken a hit, so he's been asserting himself more on the block. Wisconsin simply doesn't get the ball down low toward the end of games, but Berggren can still have an impact by setting a screen up high and either rolling to the basket or popping out.
Because he has shown the ability in the past to hit the outside shot consistently, who knows? Berggren could surprise us all and hit a big shot, or even seal a game with a huge swat. He'll always be on the court at the end of the game, giving him a chance to play hero for the Badgers.
3. Ben Brust
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You knew Ben Brust's name would crack the list after he drained this prayer on Feb. 9 against Michigan to send the Kohl Center into a frenzy and the game into overtime. Brust would also go on to hit the game-winning three in overtime to complete a memorable afternoon in Madison.
Judging by Brust's 174 three-point attempts this season, he isn't afraid to let it fly from deep, and he also shoots a respectable 39.2 percent from beyond the arc. Since Wisconsin's offense relies heavily on the three, that makes Brust one of the team's best options to hit a big shot in the closing seconds of a game.
Brust also plays the most minutes on the team and has assumed a larger role with Josh Gasser out with a torn ACL. As the season has progressed, Brust has done a better job of creating his own shot and getting enough space to shoot from outside, even if that means stepping back to NBA range.
He clearly isn't afraid to have the ball in his hands when it's crunch time, and his experience making a few cold-blooded shots this season make him a prime candidate to be a hero at some point during the Big Ten tournament or NCAA tournament.
2. Sam Dekker
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Yes, he's only a freshman, and yes, he doesn't even start for the Badgers, but Sam Dekker is flat-out the best shooter—and perhaps the best player—on Wisconsin's roster.
That alone makes him a pretty good candidate to play the role of hero this March for the Badgers, as Dekker nearly makes half of his shots and about 43 percent of his attempts from three. Dekker may take some contested shots, but he picks his spots wisely to contribute and has gradually seen his playing time increase.
He hasn't necessarily hit a memorable shot this season, but Dekker goes in spurts where he can't miss, and even though he comes off the bench, he more often than not sees the court during crunch time for Wisconsin.
Dekker can score in various ways, and as the season's wore on, he's earned the trust of head coach Bo Ryan. Don't be surprised to see Dekker come through in a big way during the postseason. After all, he's done it before.
1. Traevon Jackson
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It's becoming difficult to ignore Traevon Jackson's knack for thriving when the pressure is on.
It began against Minnesota on Jan. 26 when Jackson hit a go-ahead jumper against Minnesota. Then, on Feb. 6, Jackson completed the comeback against Iowa when he hit a game-tying three to send the game into overtime. The Badgers would go on to defeat the Hawkeyes in double overtime.
If those two instances weren't enough, Jackson pulled a Ben Brust and sank a contested game-winning three at the buzzer to knock off Penn State and give the Badgers a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.
Jackson has had his ups and downs this season after being asked to assume a larger and unfamiliar role as the starting point guard, but he is the one with the ball in his hands when the shot clock is winding down, and on three different occasions, Jackson has stepped up in a big way at the end of games for Wisconsin.
Because of his ability to penetrate and create his own shot, as well as his recent success sinking the dagger into the hearts of his opponents, Jackson is the most likely Badger to be a hero during March Madness.