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.