The Badgers have a storied (recent) history of really tall guys that can play in the post and also step outside and hit a three. It's kind of a prerequisite to play in Bo Ryan's offense after all. Luminaries like Brian Butch, Jon Leuer, and Jared Berggren have manned the pivot for Wisconsin during the last decade. If you go back a little further you find all-time Wisconsin great Mike Wilkinson dominating down low.
This year Wisconsin is blessed with multiple solid options at the four and five. Preseason top-10 player in the country Frank Kaminsky will obviously be starting at center for the Badgers and the power forward slot will likely be filled by reigning B1G Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes. There is also some depth here, but I feel like I might ruin the rest of the post if I just start giving away all the good nuggets in the second paragraph.
Without further ado, here is what is in store for Wisconsin's bigs this year!
There are pretty defined roles here. Kaminsky plays center and Hayes plays power forward. If Ryan is going to go with a traditional lineup, and not three guards or something, those are the two guys who will be out there for the tip-off.
The lead detective on the "why did Wisconsin lose to Kentucky last year" case is putting away his notebook and magnifying glass (detectives still use those, right?) to play for the Badgers this year. He is receiving many, many preseason accolades and will look to continue his stellar run in last year's NCAA Tournament at the beginning of this new season. Kaminsky transformed himself from a fringe contributor at the start of last year to preseason B1G player of the year this season. It was amazing to watch and completely unexpected (if you go back and look at preseason predictions no one had Kaminsky being one of the best players in the nation) and if he can show improvements to his interior defense and develop a dominating post move he could be in the discussion for national player of the year.
Kaminsky averaged 13.9 points per game and 6.3 boards per game, while dropping 1.3 assists and adding 1.7 blocks per game. He set the single game scoring record for the Badgers and dominated future NBA draft picks in the Elite 8 against Arizona. He decided to forgo the NBA Draft because playing professionally sounded "boring" to him. Kaminsky is going to be the first option for the Badgers on offense and will undoubtedly be a top player in the conference. During the Badgers open scrimmage, Kaminsky looked confident and the offense flowed through him effortlessly. He scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting and as an attendee, it was a fairly quiet 23 points. No one seemed to notice that Kaminsky was the leading scorer until the final horn.
There are few teams that have a legitimate inside/outside threat at the center position like Kaminsky, and the Badgers will look to exploit matchups throughout the season. He is primed for a big season and if he can handle the sky high expectations, the Badgers could have a special season.
The final starting position will likely be occupied by sophomore power forward Hayes. Coming off the bench last year, Hayes was a revelation for the Badgers with his rebounding and mid-range jumper game. His per 40 minute averages of 17.6 points and 6.4 rebounds put him in line for a nice little stat increase with more playing time this year. Hayes has slimmed down about 15-20 pounds and looked agile during the Red/White Scrimmage. He can use his newfound speed to slither around more statuesque fours and grab some rebounds.
There has also been much talk around Madison about Hayes' newfound range. He didn't attempt a single three last year, but hucked up four during the scrimmage (making two!). He'll also need to continue his trend of getting to the free throw line with regularity. Per 40 minutes, Hayes would have attempted 10 free throws a game. The leader in free throw attempts last season was Antoine Mason of Niagara, with 357. At 10 FTA per game over 38 games, Hayes would have lead the country in this stat. Obviously he is not going to play every minute of every game, but say he attempts 250, that will put him in the top 20 nationally.
I think Hayes will have a big season and wouldn't be surprised if he challenged Sam Dekker for "second banana" on offense by the end of the season.
Wisconsin's bench counts Duje Dukan and Vitto Brown or Ethan Happ (depending on if he redshirts or not) as the third and fourth forwards. Dukan has great length (he has stretched out to 6'11" depending on who is measuring) and looked, and this may sound weird, large during the Red/White scrimmage. He banged bodies while still maintaining his ability to step out and stroke the three (two-for-two during scrimmage). Brown and Happ are battling each other for the fourth forward minutes and as of right now the leader is...I'm not 100% sure. Sophomore Brown is 6'8" and 237 pounds while true freshman Happ is 6'9" and 230 pounds, so there is no disparity in size that could shed light on the situation. Brown obviously has the experience on his side (as well as the singing voice, dude has some pipes and sang the national anthem waaaaaaay better than that horses' ass from Staind) but Happ has been impressive in practice as well as on the glass during the scrimmage. An important side note from watching Happ play during the scrimmage: he shoots like my friend Paul Somers. I know you guys don't know Paul, but he had a super weird motion that was often erratic. Whoever wins this battle of roommates, the Badgers will be the better for it.
Overall Grade: A
I think the Badgers will have one of the best frontcourts in the nation, not just the B1G. Kaminsky looks primed for a monster season and Hayes is only getting better. With some valuable contributions from Dukan (whom many writers are predicting will be an x-factor) and Brown/Happ, this should be an excellent year for the Badger bigs.