2015-2016 ITH Season Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

  • 09/25/2015 9:14 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Wisconsin Badgers.

It was a historical season last year for Wisconsin. The Badgers won the Big Ten easily and knocked off 38-0 Kentucky in the Final Four before falling to Duke in the national championship game.

It could be another historical season in 2015-2016, but for different reasons. The upcoming season could be Bo Ryan’s last in Madison even though the 67-year old backed off the retirement talk in August.

Wisconsin will be going through a retooling year with five of the seven players who played in the national championship game departed. Four were starters for the majority of the season.

They lose Frank Kaminsky, who was the National and Big Ten Player of the Year, and was drafted 9th overall in first round of the NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Sam Dekker left early and was selected 18th overall in the NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. Josh Gasser was a four-year starter. Traevon Jackson started for more than two years before an injury derailed his senior season. Duje Dukan was a key contributor off the bench.

With so many pieces gone, it will certainly be a challenge for Ryan and his squad to reach their 18th straight NCAA tournament. A Ryan coached Badger team has never finished outside the top four in the conference and has reached the Final Four two straight seasons.

Returners Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are the key returnees and the Badgers hopes will rest heavily on both players. Hayes, a forward, started all 40 games last year and Koenig, a guard, started 24, filling in for Jackson when he was injured.

The 6-foot-8 Hayes was one of the Big Ten’s most efficient players last season. After not even attempting a 3-pointer as a freshman, he made close to 40 percent as a sophomore (on 101 attempts). Koenig, meanwhile, was the most efficient ball screen guard in the conference as he scored 1.02 per possession in those situations according to Synergy Sports.

Alex Illikainen, Brevin Pritzl (247Composite top 100), Charlie Thomas, Khalil Iverson and Andy Van Vliet are all joining the program. Pritzl has a chance to crack the starting lineup, likely competing with redshirt junior Zak Showalter for the other spot at guard.

Junior Vitto Brown and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ will both have a shot to start in the front court, but are relatively unknown. Happ, however, has drawn high praise from Kaminsky.

“I think Ethan Happ is going to be a really good player for this program” Frank Kaminsky told Fox 6 in April. “He’s one of those guys who gets better every day. He has a will to come in and compete every day in practice and get better.”

The Badgers will face several non-conference tests, squaring off with Georgetown, Temple and Marquette at home, and traveling to Oklahoma and Syracuse.

Bottom Line: This will be a remarkably different Wisconsin team. The only senior is a walk-on who just received a scholarship. Finishing in the top four of the Big Ten isn’t out of the question, but will certainly be a challenge. Of all the teams in the Big Ten, the Badgers might be the hardest team to predict.

Quotable: “I am (rethinking my plan to retire). Everybody kind of thinks they know when they’re ready to retire, or step aside. I’m not totally sure. … I just wanted to get it out there that I’m not going to be able to do this forever. But who can say one year? Who can say that? I simply cut to the chase by saying I’ll do another year and we’ll see what happens in the next number of months.” – Ryan to ESPN in August.

PreviouslyRutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, Nebraska, MinnesotaIowaIllinois, Ohio State, Michigan 

(Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

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  • SCHoosier

    WIS has a great PG and an all conference player in Hayes. Never can overlook a BO Ryan team…but the Hoosiers should be able to handle them this year…providing Hayes doesn’t go off for a “triple-triple”

  • TomJameson

    I think Hayes is a forward. He may play point sort of like TW does, by initiating the offense at the top of the key.

    Interesting point … when I looked at their roster page they have 16 players listed … 8 guards and 8 forwards. There is the 6’11” Belgium (Van Vliet), then the two 6’9″ guys (Happ and Ilikainen), then four 6’8″ guys … All of them are listed as forwards.

    That looks big, but I’m thinking the skill level isn’t really there yet. In other words, not a lot of skilled big guys.

    IU plays them fairly early at home, and about the middle of the B1G season at their place. I’m hoping IU wins both, but it’s tough to beat Wisconsin there. Bo really gets on the refs and sort of gets them going his way more often than not. 🙁

  • calbert40

    I think Bo’s streak of Top 4 B1G finishes comes to a halt this year. Yes, Hayes is excellent, and Koenig played very well when called upon last year, but this team has far too many questions this year, especially when you compare them to some of the other top teams.

    Hayes has never been the #1 option…or the #2 option for this team. Koenig has never been more than a role player thrust into a starting role, who happened to play well in that new role. I think it is a mistake to simply assume that Hayes will automatically excel in his new role and become the best player in the B1G this year. Equally, I think it is a mistake to assume Koenig will become an All-B1G performer. Yet, that is what it will take for this team to succeed at the level expected in order to finish in the Top 4.

    I’m not suggesting these two things absolutely can’t happen, but those two must happen as well as getting a lot of contributions from player who contributed nothing to the program in the past. I think they fall back to the 5-7 range this year.

  • TomJameson

    I agree about the top-4 finishes in the B1G coming to a stop, but they will still be pretty good at home. I think the road could very well just eat them alive this year though.

  • CreanFaithful

    I agree on both points. Koenig is way over-hyped to me. Could he have a break out season? Sure, but I’ll have to see it to believe it. He was surrounded by talent last year a distributed just 2.5 assists per game. He shot well from deep (40%) but I think that too is an easier feat when surrounded by the talent they had last year. The stat about the pick n roll sited in the article was interesting however.


    Hayes is a PF. He’s much bigger than Troy. He’s never played point “like Troy” in his time at Wisconsin. To “think” Hayes is a forward and not actually know makes me wonder about you Tommy.


    I think if they finish Top 4 then Bo will retire. To be able to say he did with this roster and laugh at everyone on his way out. It’ll be interesting to see where they play Hayes though. He’s a more natural 4 at 6-8 240. He’s a skilled offensive player. He’s going to get plenty of touches and chances and Bo will make sure of it.

  • SCHoosier

    Yea I know that..the way I wrote it looked like I was referring to Hayes at the PG…I wasn’t. Koenig the guy at point..and damn underrated IMO. Point was.they have two solid pieces to start the rebuild…and you know a couple of other guys will step up.

  • calbert40

    I think Koenig could have a similar career arc to Will Sheehey. A talented player, but not the star. Will was best when he was the 4th/5th best player on the floor. He was able to do a lot of things based on the other talent on the floor, but when Vic, Cody, CWat, Jordy, etc all left and he was counted upon to be a focal point of the team, he struggled a bit. I can see that being the case with Koenig.

    I don’t care how good of a team you are, when you lose players of the caliber that UW lost, it will affect the team. One of the areas most affected will be what is required of the former role players.

  • Jeremy Jackson

    Annoyed with the ads showing up in the article column. I realize these guys need to make money but don’t know if I will be coming back as much to check in…

  • Drew

    join the forum! it is way more fun 🙂

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Bo will have his team near the top 4 of the BIG if not in it by march, Much respect to him as he gets the best out of what he has and they always play good defense and don’t turn it over. Watch him take that group to the sweet 16

  • SilentBob

    If Bo gets this team to finish top 4 again, or even top 5, then he will easily go down as the best coach to never win a championship in my book. He’s losing as much production as we did after ’12-’13 and he was dealt a brutal conference schedule. He only gets Rutgers, Penn State, Nebraska, and Minnesota once. Then has to face IU, Maryland, Michigan State, and Illinois twice. Then has Iowa and a very hungry Northwestern team on the road. At least they were nice enough to give him Michigan, Ohio State, and Purdue at home. They got their work cut out for them big time

  • IUBizmark

    I haven’t compared the two, but Gene Keady might be the best coach never to win a championship. I feel like he finished higher than Bo more often in conference, though his post season success was pretty bad.

  • SilentBob

    Keady was a good coach who had a lot of success. He went out pretty ugly record wise, but ya gotta look at the whole body. I did compare the two after you mentioned it and the numbers suggest Ryan.

    Ryan (at Wisconsin only) – 14 seasons, .741 win % overall, .717 win% in conference, 4 first place finishes, and 3 second place finishes. Seven total sweet 16 appearances, three elite eights, two final fours, and one runner up.

    Keady (Purdue only) – 25 seasons, .646 win percentage, .602 win% in conference, 6 first place finishes, and 4 second place finishes. Five total sweet sixteen appearances, two elite eights, and zero final fours. Keady also finished outside the top 4 a total of 10 times

  • MK

    Complain much?

  • IUBizmark

    This is awesome! Thanks for taking the time to pull the numbers! While I believe the competition was tougher during Keady’s tenure than during Bo’s, the numbers make a clear case that Bo was much better.

  • TomJameson

    I see what you said now … LOL

    I agree with the idea that you can never count out Wisconsin, not with Bo leading them.

  • TomJameson

    To most people… I don’t like to come on too strong and say silly stuff like “YOU’RE WRONG!!!!” To say “I think… ” in the way I wrote it conveyed the idea well enough. I’ve seen enough of SCHoosier to know he actually knew better anyway. I just read his sentence one way instead of the other.

    What gets me is you believing you have any idea about what “I think” even means, considering I’m not sure you’ve ever partaken in that mental exercise! LOL

  • jimmygoiu

    just to clarify, Bo has advanced to the s16 7 times. Of those 7 times, he has advanced once to the elite 8, once to the FF, and once to the final game.


    Twice to the elite 8 and final four.

  • SilentBob

    I can see where this would confuse people. Let me say it this way. At Wisconsin he has had his season end in the sweet 16 four times, in the elite 8 one time, in the final four one time, and as the national runner up one time. Keady at Purdue had his seasons end in the sweet 16 three times and in the elite 8 two times.

  • SilentBob

    Yea even though I wasn’t born until ’92 I’d agree that the competition was a bit tougher in Keadys era. I believe big ten teams won 4 titles and had 4 national runner ups in his 25 years. But the big ten is no slouch by any means now of days. No big ten champions in Bo’s time, but there have been 6 runner ups (two overlapping with Keadys time).


    Guys.. we don’t have much longer to campaign… #iufb4gameday

  • Paul

    Questioning how the Badgers will finish in the Big Ten standings seems fair, but saying it’s going to be a challenge to get to the tournament seems like a bit of an overstatement. Bo Ryan “retools” every year, last year being probably his best retention of talent since he began coaching Wisconsin. And Bucky has made the tournament 17 years in a row. Hayes and Koenig alone could probably care them to a 8-9 seed and if we’ve learned anything about Bo Ryan, the kids who were warming the bench last year were watching and learning and will step in and contribute now that it’s their turn.

    It’s true, Wisconsin is a tough team to predict this year and even the most avid Badger fans would be hesitant to predict we’ll be in the race for the Big Ten Championship, but they’ll do alright. I’ll go out on a limb early and predict a #6 seed some tournament time. They’ll finish 3rd or 4th in the Big Ten. But betting against Bo Ryan just might put you in the poorhouse.

  • TomJameson

    I don’t get those ads.

  • ArghSonOfOhCrap

    Use adblock plus plus for Chrome or IE on Windows and Mac OS. But To be fair we are getting free up to date information without the ads we all pay or get no site.

  • ArghSonOfOhCrap

    Time for De’Ron Davis to commit..

  • SilentBob

    If they finish top 3 or 4 they will get higher than a sixth seed. This is shaping up to be one of the most talented years the big ten has had recently depth wise, and Wisconisn arguably has the toughest schedule. All good things, streaks in this case, eventually come to an end. Bob Knight spent his first 11 years never finishing outside the top 5. Bringing home 7 first place finishes and two national titles in that frame. His twelth season he finished 7th despite having Alford and Uwe Blab (who was the 17th pick in the draft that year). I’d slate Wisconsin at 5 out of sheer respect to Bo’s ability to recruit and develop undervalued players. I don’t believe in Koeing, and Hayes has never been more than the third option this far.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Is anyone here a Marine Biologist? The sea was angry,,,,,

  • Bill Graham

    I think people are giving Wisconsin just a little bit more credit than they should have (at least this year). Koenig is a good player but has major defensive lapses i.e. tyus jones. Hayes is a stud and Pritzl is solid. I see them at 5th or 6th in the conference…but still they are always a tough game given Bo and Tom’s history.

  • Bill Graham

    In other news Bridges is going to commit to MSU next week….

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Really? If true that hurts.

  • straight no chaser

    I’ll be honest folks, I’m a little tired of seeing this story atop ITH. Come on, it’s a team that stole our colors, and all they’re good at is badgering.

  • marcusgresham

    Last season nothwithstanding, Bo Ryan has had far less talent than Keady had.

  • marcusgresham

    Yeah, and honey badgers don’t even care!

  • calbert40

    I’m not saying Hayes isn’t great, but Hayes has never been “The Guy.” It doesn’t matter that Kaminsky and Dekker were both fantastic, they were ahead of him in game planning from both his own locker room and the opponent locker room.

    Can he be the #1 guy? Probably. That’s not as big of a concern as is his supporting cast. His cohort is Koenig, and I don’t think that’s a quality #2. I think opponents will be able to bottle him up a bit, because there isn’t another option that scares them.