2017-2018 ITH Season Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

  • 10/06/2017 10:51 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, our Big Ten team previews continue with a look at Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has been a staple at the top of the Big Ten for more than 15 years, but the program’s streak of finishing in the top four of the league standings could finally be in jeopardy.

The Badgers lost four starters – Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown – from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. And besides Ethan Happ, one of the nation’s top returning players, the roster lacks proven experience.

Happ is the clear centerpiece for the Badgers as Greg Gard enters his second full season as Wisconsin’s head coach. As a redshirt sophomore, he ranked in the top ten in the league in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, was first in steal percentage and eighth in block percentage.

In 27.8 minutes per game, Happ averaged 14 points, nine rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting close to 59 percent. While Miles Bridges is going to be the league’s preseason player of the year, there’s an argument to be made that Happ should be strongly considered for the honor.

Beyond Happ is where the questions begin for the Badgers. Junior Khalil Iverson appeared in 35 games last season and averaged 3.9 points and three rebounds in 15.3 minutes per game. He’s one of just three returning Badgers that averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season. Iverson is an explosive athlete who does a nice job of getting to the line (60.6 free throw rate), but knocked down just 56.1 percent of his attempts from the stripe last season.

The rest of the frontcourt rotation doesn’t appear to be settled entering the season.

Junior Charles Thomas, sophomore Alex Illikainen and junior Andy Van Vliet all played spot minutes a season ago.

Illikainen actually saw his role decrease from his freshman season as he shot just 32.4 percent from the field. Thomas is a big body, but was a poor finisher in limited minutes (39.6 percent). Van Vilet is a name to watch because he can potentially help stretch the floor.

Freshman Nathan Reuvers, a 247Composite top 100 recruit from Minnesota, could have a chance to carve out a role along with redshirt freshman Aleem Ford, a 6-foot-8 forward. Wisconsin has proven over a long period of time that it can develop players year-over-year and the likelihood that a player or two will emerge from this group is high.

The only returning guard who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season is sophomore D’Mitrik Trice, who averaged 5.6 points in 18.3 minutes per game. Trice, the younger brother of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice, figures to take over at the point.

Redshirt sophomore Brevin Pritzl will have to hold off freshmen Brad Davison and Kobe King at the two guard. Pritzl was a capable shooter in high school, but hit just 23.8 percent of his attempts from distance last season. Like Trice a season ago, Davison, who can play both guard spots, may be forced into a role as freshmen out of necessity.

Bottom Line: Big Ten fans know better than to count out Wisconsin when projecting the conference race, but the Badgers are largely unproven going into the season beyond Happ. Wisconsin did pick a good time for a foreign trip as it went to Australia over the summer for an exhibition tour. The results of those games don’t mean anything, but the extra practice time was definitely beneficial as Gard and the staff attempt to integrate inexperienced pieces. Wisconsin won’t be picked to finish in the top four of the league because of the roster turnover, but don’t be surprised to see another NCAA tournament appearance for the Badgers.

Quotable: “Honestly, from a game standpoint and an experience standpoint, I don’t know if I could have asked for much more. I was able to play a lot of guys in all of the games and use different lineups in every game like I intended, and really got a good feel for where guys are and who’s ready to step into roles that need to be filled and who still has work to do. All in all, it’s been a terrific experience for us.” – Gard on the team’s trip to Australia.

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  • pcantidote

    Much like I’m done predicting Penn State is going to get better, I’m also done predicting Wisconsin is going to have a down year.

  • mharv2631

    You have to, because they will always teach their players to FLOP.

  • PBzeer

    All streaks come to an end at some point and I think it’s more likely Wisky’s this season than PSU.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    this just in, NCAA awards Nigel Hayes a seventh year of eligibility

  • TomJameson

    This is a team that (IMHO) looks worse on paper than IU. They lost 4 starters, have one “star” returning, but don’t have as much talent after that that IU does. I know, I know … I sound like a broken record … but it just irks me that even when teams are “similar” on paper, IU is the one who gets no respect.

    I just hope IU has half the chip on their shoulders that I have on mine. lol

  • iugradmark

    Tom, I share your frustrations and we will get back there. Wisconsin has been very stable for a long time and this will be the first year they have to do it without Bo’s kids. I believe once Archie gets his kids fully on-board the days of going from winning the Big one year and missing the tourney the next will be behind us.

  • TomJameson

    Oh, I know, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m just itching to watch some decent consistent IU basketball again.

    I liked Crean, but I think the change was needed, and I think Archie will take us to the next step.

  • Arch Puddington

    I can’t quite figure why you are so determined to see disrespect at every turn. Wisconsin has finished in the top 4 in the conference 16 years in a row, including the first two under Greg Gard. That is among the most remarkable runs of consistency in D

  • Frales

    I think it will be interesting to see how Greg Gard does now that he has (for the most part) his own players from the beginning. Was he riding Bo’s momo like we saw Davis do here? I think he’ll do well but still has to prove himself long term imo.

  • Oldguyy

    What’s bizarre to me is that so many people assume that the fortunes of different teams with different coaches in the past somehow give us an indication of the relative fortunes of the two teams this year.

  • marcusgresham

    Ethan Happ can probably help your loved ones kick alcohol because when he gets the ball he’s on a 12-step program.

  • TomJameson

    I just don’t agree with that. There have been major changes at Wisconsin, including a very major coaching change. Yes, Gard did okay with Bo’s players … but there wasn’t anything close to the issues at Wisconsin as there was at IU. Coach on the hot-seat, players losing that drive, chemistry suffering.

    The reason for Wisconsin’s run of success …. is gone. But some think it’s like a train that will just keep on running exactly the same. I just don’t agree with that.

    Wisconsin’s success isn’t coach-proof, no program is. But this is the year we should find out about Wisky.

  • Arch Puddington

    Can’t quite tell what you mean by this, but I would point out that only one of the two teams in question has a new coach. So if that is the variable that matters, IU is the unknown entity here. Those who are predicting a low finish for the Hoosiers are making a logical projection from what the Hoosiers have shown on the court, and from all of the turmoil and turnover they have experienced in just the last year. I think we will be better than the prognosticators say we will be, but I get why they are saying it. If we prove it on the court over a sustained period of time, we’ll starting getting the same benefit of the doubt as a program like Wisconsin does. Until then, we are just another program trying to emerge from the pack.

  • Arch Puddington

    I did not say that their system Wisconsin is “coach proof.” I just pointed out that even since Bo left, their streak of top 4 finishes in the conference has continued. We’ll see if Gard can recruit well enough to sustain that success over the longer term, but in the short term, here is what we do know:

    1. They are coming off a second place finish in the conference and a trip to the Sweet 16. We are coming off an 11th place finish in the conference and a first round loss in the NIT.
    2. They lost some good players; we lost better players.
    3. They have one recruit ranked in the top 100 and two other four star players, we have one recruit ranked in the top 100 plus one other four star and a three star.
    4. They are playing in the same system they have had for years, we are breaking in a new system that even our coach has admitted won’t be fully realized this year.

    As much as I think we will surprise people by being better than we were last year, and as much as I think Wisconsin may finally take a tumble, no one is “disrespecting” us with their pre-season prediction. Based on what is actually known and what has actually been done on the court, we are the program with something to prove.

  • Mr. Shep-dizzle

    I respectfully disagree as well. I do agree that you should look at the program as a whole and their track record, but you still have to play the game and that’s where I disagree. The talent that they are showing on paper is not very good, to the my untrained eye. IU did win the BIG 2 of out of 4 years and that’s more than Wisc has accomplished in that span in the conference, and there’s still some players from that time on the team. They definitely play well in March tho. Coach Miller has at least 5 top 100 guys on his team currently, and if he’s half the coach most of us think / hope he is, then he should have some success with those guys. I don’t think you can just say the NE Patriots are automatically the best team in pro football the year after Brady finally leaves just because of track record. The guys playing the game are a big part of it. That’s why IU wasn’t that great in the late 90’s thru 2012. We had a great history until that time but we didn’t have the players to continue the tradition.

  • TomJameson

    Arch, I just don’t agree, and I think that you are overlooking a lot of the circumstances, for both teams to make your points.

    1. They used Bo’s boys. IU had an emotional year of seeing their coach’s job threatened. Basically they lost their way, and teams do that in extraordinary conditions.
    2. One of our players didn’t play most of the year, one was playing out of position, and one played spotty defense. I’ll give you the two, but not OG.
    3. Stars don’t mean much. We have a senior laden team that have been through the process, have a point to make, and are much better mentally than they have.
    4. Even playing a new system, IU will have a better and more consistent defense this year. And no, I’m not worried about offense at all.

    This is all nice to talk about, but for now it’s going to be just a matter of opinion. We have yours, and we have mine. And, of course, there’s always a middle. That’s why they play the games. Hopefully at the end of the season, we both remember who said what.

  • sd chuck

    IMO, wisc. is overrated, they lost a ton, Happ is the real deal but he will be the main focus of all defenses. Depends on who they get to step up. One thing about them, it will be the ugliest game of the year!

  • Arch Puddington

    All of which is great, but mostly separate from the point I was making. I’m not saying I agree with the prognosticators, I’m challenging the point Tom keeps making that they are “biased” or “disrespectful” towards IU for not picking them higher. You have articulated the argument(s) the counter theirs, but arguing with the substance of their predictions is different than whining about “disrespect”. In other words, they may be wrong, but that doesn’t mean they are biased.

    Unless you think that literally the entire national media got together in some kind of conspiracy to hurt the feelings of IU basketball fans, you’d have to acknowledge that a bad team that lost its three best players and fired its coach has to prove itself on the court before non-partisans have reason to believe in them. We may look good on paper, and in fact I think we will be better than last year. But last year we stunk, and this year we have less talent and a new coach. That’s not bias or disrespect, that’s just the facts.

  • TomJameson

    Well Archie … I’m not whining about anything, I’m stating that IU is being underrated by most, and I called it not getting the same respect as other programs, considering all the circumstances. And your facts are no correct either. For one, losing our 3 best players, OG didn’t play most of the season, how would you think that really affected the team, you know, since he didn’t play? But you still lump him in there like he played every game.

    Just because I don’t agree with you, or anyone doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t mean they are whining. You are blowing my arguments out of proportion to try to make your point, and it’s not a good look. You should stick to making your point, and stop making fun of other’s opinions.

    You’ve lost a little respect from me on this one. But I’m not going to whine about it. I’m just going to drop it.

  • Hardwood83

    Does that include 15 guaranteed Free throws a game too?

  • John D Murphy

    Robust conversation below. I’m not going to weigh directly in but here is where I see Wisconsin. They are in the group fighting for 2nd tier (MSU is alone in tier 1 IMO) with IU, Purdue, Iowa, NW, Minn, and Michigan. 3 of these I think will separate a little from the pack IMO. I think the B1G will get 7 bids and one of this group will be left out. I don’t think Rutgers, PSU, Nebraska, Illinois, or OSU have any chance to make anything happen this year. I’m not high on Maryland but think they’ll finish in the middle.

  • Fivelefts

    I think we’re going to go back to, regularly beating Wisconsin!

  • MGDC

    I’m not going to say that Wisconsin is going to be as good as they’ve been but foremost, they are a system and execution team. No matter who is on the court for them, they generally don’t hurt themselves with poor execution or forced shots or being caught out of position on defense. They might not shoot it as well or have the athletes they had last season, but I expect they will not very often beat themselves. Anyone who takes them lightly, especially at their place, will be in for a rude surprise.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Of course!

  • TomJameson

    Pretty sure IU isn’t going to take anybody lightly this season, and I hope I didn’t put forth that idea that I take them lightly either. There’s just been a lot of “ho-hum” from the national media about IU, and I just don’t like it, nor agree with it. There was one “pundit” from NBC that said IU would only win 5 games this season. Keep in mind, Crean’s 2nd year team won 4 conference games.

    These so-called experts are getting ridiculous. My opinion only. Not being whinny about it either, just being ticked off.

  • Brad

    Yes, I felt like Wisconsin regardless of who their coach is, had Clappy the clown’s number. They beat us like a drum year in and year out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Archie gets us back on track this year.

  • Brad

    Try telling that to the local tanning salon and the Diet coke distributor. Their sales have plummeted these past few months.

  • TomJameson

    Wow … for absolutely no reason at all, you figure you should throw a slam in there. I guess haters have to hate.