Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/28/12
MADISON, Wis. With the game clock winding down and Wisconsin's basketball team in desperate need of a bucket to save its season against Syracuse, every person on the court knew which player would have the ball in his hands. Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor had been instrumental in leading his team's improbable NCAA tournament comeback, but faced with a one-point deficit and 15 seconds remaining, only he was in charge of changing the fortunes of a season last Thursday.When Taylor found himself stuck at the top of the key, he passed on the wing to teammate Rob Wilson, who immediately gave the ball back to Taylor. And it became clear just one option remained.Wisconsin would live or die with Taylor, an entire team deferring to its leader.By now, we know how the story goes: Taylor's lengthy last-second 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of a defender fell short. So did Wisconsin's dreams of an Elite Eight appearance in a 64-63 loss to Syracuse.It certainly wasn't the first time the Badgers stood around with a shot clock or game clock running low, waiting for Taylor to make a play no matter how many feet he stood away from the basket. It was, of course, the last.Next year's team won't have the chance to stand idly by and wait for something to happen because Taylor has used up his eligibility. The question moving forward is: For as much as Taylor accomplished as a player and it was plenty is it possible the Badgers will be better off next season without him?In the immediate aftermath of a successful Wisconsin season that included a Sweet 16 appearance, that may sound like a harsh criticism of Taylor. But if anything, it is more an indication of his star power. He was a preseason All-American who led his team in points (14.8) and assists per game (4.1), all while helping to turn a group of relatively unproven players into a confident supporting cast. But with his departure, those other players must be willing to step up in key moments, unafraid of the consequences associated with possible failure.Where can the Badgers look for some reassurance? Let's start in the backcourt. As it stands now, it appears junior-to-be Josh Gasser could be in line to handle point guard responsibilities, moving over from shooting guard. He is a natural leader who makes smart decisions, even if he isn't a natural point guard.Other candidates include Traevon Jackson and George Marshall, who sat out this season as a redshirt. Marshall dazzled at times during practice, and Taylor has spoken highly of his ability to take over as point guard. If Marshall plays up to his potential, he could play about 20 minutes per game.At the very least, all three players will have to demonstrate an assertiveness that was lacking beyond Taylor for much of this season. The only other player the Badgers lose to graduation is Wilson, a shooting guard who contributed significantly by the end of his senior season. But Wisconsin has enough guards, including sharpshooter Ben Brust, to make up for his loss. Badgers fans also should be giddy about the prospect of Wisconsin returning its entire frontcourt. Seniors-to-be Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren improved this season perhaps more than any two players in the rotation. Both averaged in double figures scoring and developed into two of the top rebounders on the team. Forward Mike Bruesewitz and his bulldog mentality return for a senior season as well, while center Frank Kaminsky should be much improved as a sophomore.And perhaps no player will energize Wisconsin offensively in the way incoming freshman Sam Dekker might. Dekker gained legendary status in Wisconsin at Sheboygan Area Lutheran High School, particularly when he scored 40 points including the game-winning 3-pointer in the waning seconds to win a Division 5 state title against Racine Lutheran earlier this month. The addition of Dekker, a 6-foot-8 small forward, could give Wisconsin a dynamic scoring threat it lacked last season.Badgers coach Bo Ryan has a history of molding teams to fit his system. Most folks thought the 2011-12 version of Wisconsin basketball would represent a significant drop-off from the year before, when the team lost three starters to graduation. Yet the Badgers earned an identical No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and consecutive trips to the Sweet 16.Even without Taylor and his leadership, don't be surprised if Wisconsin continues to thrive in Ryan's system, making yet another appearance in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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