But in order for the Badgers to have a successful season, Wisconsin will need to develop depth and production from its bench. In the Badgers' 76-49 win at Northwestern in the Big Ten opener Thursday, the bench showed they were capable of doing that by scoring 32 points along with doing the little things to fill in the gaps.
"It was a huge lift," said junior starter Frank Kaminsky. "I mean they came in and they were strong on defense and not just on offense, which is always good."
In particular, freshman Nigel Hayes stepped up in his Big Ten debut, leading the Badgers in scoring and scoring 19 of the 32 bench points for Wisconsin. Duje Dukan was second to Hayes in scoring with seven points. Freshman point guard Bronson Koenig's stats may not jump out in the box score, but his play has been consistent all year.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan is quick to point out the upperclassmen on the team in helping with Hayes and Koenig's growth.
"The contributions we're getting from Hayes and Koenig are really pretty surprising," Ryan said. "I mean some of you guys might think that it's easy (because) they're talented, but it's still tough as freshmen. By mentioning the upperclassmen, if it hasn't been for our upperclassmen helping them, it started in the summer when they got together, it's been extremely important those two guys wouldn't be playing the way there playing without the upperclassmen helping them along the way."
Traevon Jackson, one of the upperclassmen to serve as a mentor, has taken Hayes under his wing to help him step up his game. Hayes came out aggressive the first time he checked in and was looking for his shot in the paint. In Hayes' first 7:35 of action, he scored eight of Wisconsin's 16 points, had three rebounds and one steal.
"He's fearless man, he's fearless, he has the attitude what can a mere man do to me," Jackson said. "He doesn't care. I keep telling him all the time that nobody can stop you, you're the only person who can stop you. When he's confident and when he's playing like that, nobody can and he's just at the bottom of his peak and he's no where near as good as he really is.
"We all know that and my job is to keep encouraging him to help him get to that level."
Over the last three games, Hayes is averaging 15.3 points a game and has provided the scoring lift. Ryan contributes Hayes' development due to his basketball IQ and his ability to pick up things during practice and games. Hayes is also quick to point out that the reason he's playing so well right now is because of Jackson.
"Since I've come in here he's given me the confidence I need to go out there and play, and not only play with people but to be assertive, and play above people," Hayes said. "I really appreciate the help he's given me."
Held scoreless in the same building he registered a triple-double in three seasons ago, Josh Gasser hasn't needed to score much to help Wisconsin, especially with how he continues to play tough defense.
Gasser's defense couldn't have been on better display when he was able to slow down Drew Crawford to 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
"Josh is one of the best defenders in the league and he really doesn't get the credit he does, and it's good to see him playing guys that are bigger then him," Jackson said. "Crawford is like 6-6 and Josh is like 6-3 and to see him stick his face in and dog guys, he's a really good teammate to have."
Gasser consistently draws the tough defensive assignments each night and finds success against his assignment, a reason he was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team in 2012 as a sophomore.
In addition to Gasser, the rest of Wisconsin's defense deserves credit for staying disciplined on defensive side, as the Badgers are averaging 14.4 fouls a game, which leads the nation.
Big Ten Openers
It is always key for any team to start off their conference play with a win. After Wisconsin's win over Northwestern, the Badgers have currently won 11 straight Big Ten openers.
Even though the Badgers cruised to an easy victory, there was still plenty of learning opportunities that can translate over to their preparation for No.22 Iowa on Sunday.
"Absolutely you take the win, you learn from it and move on to the next game," Jackson said. "Definitely a good game, definitely a good way to get started, just proud of they guys to be able to play efficient and to play good defense as well."
"Like the cliché line goes you're only as strong as your weakest member or your weakest link and we try to make sure the whole team is well coached. Coach Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff does a great job of making sure all of us know the plays, the scouting report, and the opponent. So when we get in we not only contribute but also raise the team level of intensity, offense, or defense whatever the team needs at the moment." – Nigel Hayes