Heart And Soul: Tucker. Ryan said the senior forward "will be one of the best captains that I've ever had." The coach watched Tucker, who led the team by default last season, emerge as a true leader on the Badgers' late-summer trip to Italy, when he would rally the team for meal plans and side trips -- and everyone would follow. Ryan has also said that Tucker could score less this season -- again, due to the depth -- but still be just as valuable.
Glue Guy: I considered Taylor, who is going to provide steady, senior leadership in the backcourt, but he carries too much of the scoring load to be relegated to "glue" status. He's more like Tucker's best supporting actor. The better pick is probably Chappell, who is expected to retain his starting role despite the return of Stiemsma and Landry. Chappell is possibly the Badgers' second-best post defender (after Stiemsma) and quietly contributes in the swing offense -- he had 56 assists last season and a dime-to-turnover ratio of 1.6-to-1; not bad for a 6-9 guy. He also contributes to the team's wardrobe; find out how in today's blog post.
Most Improved: Flowers. He shot 69.2 percent (9-of-13) from 3-point land on the Italy trip and although no one expects him to keep up that pace come November, it is a pretty good bet that Flowers will shoot better than the 39.1 percent mark he posted last season. Taylor said Flowers focused his offseason on improving his outside shot -- which, Taylor said, "will just be an added bonus for this team because most people look at him as a defender." Fans will be clamoring to see the freshman guard duo of Bohannon and Hughes, but Flowers, according to Ryan, "will be on the floor a lot this year."
After missing a chunk of last season, Marcus Landry is eager to seize the opportunity to be the Badgers' difference-maker.
X-Factor: Landry. A forward who can play both inside and out, he's the Badgers' second-most athletic player after Tucker. The question is, how much did Landry miss out on, development-wise, by being ruled ineligible for the second semester last season? Landry says that those second-half practices "were like my games. I took them seriously and pushed my teammates every day." He's capable of having a big, breakout season, but it would be more of a certainty had he already experienced a full Big Ten season and NCAA tournament trip.
Lost In The Shuffle: Forward Kevin Gullikson. A scrappy former walk-on who earned a scholarship this season after averaging 13.2 minutes/game in UW's roster-ravaged stretch of Big Ten play, Gullikson had a phenomenal practice on Thursday and showed why he's capable becoming a Glue Guy in the future (he already owns the title, I'm told, of "Sweatiest Badger.") In the present, though, he's probably the No. 7 frontcourt player on UW's depth chart, and there aren't enough minutes in a game to run a seven-man rotation at the post positions.
Bottom Line: The Big Ten is there for the taking. The two teams that usually battle UW for supremacy in this decade, Illinois and Michigan State, are in transitional periods (there's no Dee Brown, James Augustine, Paul Davis, Shannon Brown or Maurice Ager anymore). Iowa lost its nucleus. Indiana has talent, but is putting in a new system under a new coach. Ohio State is loaded, but extremely green. If the Badgers stay healthy, if Tucker and Taylor are effective leaders, and if Stiemsma and Landry can be strong front line defenders, UW can edge out the Buckeyes for the league title.
"We have all the components right now," said Tucker. "As long as we stay disciplined, we can be that powerhouse team."