Wisconsin Basketball: Ranking Badgers' 5 Most Indispensable Players
It's already been roughly five months since Wisconsin basketball saw its season abruptly end in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Just as the Badgers' football program went long spells without managing any points, the basketball squad was haunted by the same issue, and it reared its ugly head in Wisconsin's matchup against No. 12 seed Ole Miss.
The Badgers were without their floor general Josh Gasser all season due to a torn ACL, but the redshirt junior will be back for the 2013-14 season. His absence forced others to play larger roles than head coach Bo Ryan would have preferred, and depth will be a question once again this season after losing three senior starting forwards.
Will any freshmen crack Wisconsin's most indispensable list, and where does Gasser factor in? Continue on to find out.
5. Bronson Koenig
One area where the Badgers won't lack depth is at guard thanks to the return of Gasser and the experience players like Traevon Jackson and George Marshall gained last season—and the arrival of freshman Bronson Koenig.
Koenig, a 4-star recruit according to 247sports, will be hard-pressed to earn a spot in the starting five a la Sam Dekker last season, but his skills are college-ready. He turned down offers from Kansas and Duke to remain in-state, and the transition from high school to college should come easiest to Koenig over Wisconsin's other five 2013 commits.
He has good size at 6'3" and 185 pounds, and it's his vision, smarts and ability to handle the basketball that should help him land in Ryan's good graces and earn him a sixth-man role next season.
4. Frank Kaminsky
The junior forward has been blocked the past two seasons by Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren, but all three have since graduated, guaranteeing Frank Kaminsky a starting spot for the 2013-14 season.
Kaminsky will have to assert himself on the block, as he has been more perimeter oriented since arriving at Wisconsin. At 6'11", Kaminsky will be counted on to rebound the basketball and be a threat in the low post as only one other Badger measures in taller than 6'8" (Evan Anderson).
Because Kaminsky has shown he has the ability to knock down the outside shot, he will be able to stretch the floor, and if he can polish his inside game, it will make him one of the most valuable players on the roster. Last season, Kaminsky only played 10.3 minutes per game and averaged 4.2 points a contest on 43.9 percent shooting.
3. Ben Brust
Considering the Badgers' depth at guard and lack thereof at forward, it's likely that Wisconsin uses a three-guard lineup next season. Senior Ben Brust, the team's leading scorer last season, will be a member of that starting backcourt regardless of whether Ryan decides to roll with two or three guards.
Brust was the Badgers' only true threat from beyond the arc during the 2012-13 season save for Dekker. He averaged 11.1 points per game and played the most minutes by a landslide for a team that desperately missed the services of Josh Gasser.
The absence of Gasser forced Brust to step up and become more than just a three-point specialist. With Gasser expected to assume the role of point guard next season, that can help Brust settle back into his comfort zone, but it's his senior leadership that the Badgers will need more than anything during the upcoming season.
2. Josh Gasser
How were the Badgers able to earn a No. 5 seed in last season's NCAA tournament? Well, Bo Ryan is their head coach, first and foremost. But it makes you wonder what could have been if Josh Gasser had avoided a serious knee injury prior to the start of the season.
Following the departure of Jordan Taylor, Gasser was set to become Wisconsin's next starting point guard after sharing the backcourt with Taylor two years ago. Instead, the Badgers were forced to scramble and played an off-guard—Traevon Jackson—at the point, which cost them on several occasions.
Jackson did an admirable job for the most part, showing an ability to create and come through in the clutch, and he will likely still start next season. But Gasser appears best suited to be the floor general, and even if he isn't, the commitment of Koenig and the experience gained by Jackson last season will help.
Two seasons ago, Gasser logged a ton of minutes each game (34.1), was money from three (45.2 percent) and averaged 7.6 points per game. It will be crucial that he's able to shake off the rust and remain healthy for the Badgers next season.
The good news for Wisconsin? Gasser will see minutes in its upcoming trip to Canada.
1. Sam Dekker
The only returning forward that played more than 11 minutes a game last season, Sam Dekker was arguably the best player on Wisconsin's roster despite coming off the bench, leading the team in three-point shooting (39.1 percent) and field goal percentage (47.8)—as a freshman.
Normally, freshmen don't have much of an impact with Bo Ryan at the helm, but Dekker's ability was impossible to ignore, and he saw his role increase as the season progressed. He was able to create on his own and hit the outside shot while playing strong enough defense so as to not hinder the Badgers on that end of the floor.
Entering the 2013-14 season, the Badgers can't be certain what they will get out of incoming freshmen forwards Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes, which makes Dekker's role all the more vital. Dekker may also be forced to carry the Wisconsin frontcourt if Kaminsky struggles to adjust to a starting role.
Combine the lack of depth at forward with the fact that Dekker will be the most talented player on the Badgers' roster next season, and it makes Dekker the most indispensable player for Wisconsin.
Follow Bleacher Report's Wisconsin Badgers basketball writer Dave Radcliffe on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe