Wisconsin kicks off their 2015-16 season officially with a home game tonight against Western Illinois at the Kohl Center. For some student insight on to what the expectations are for this team from someone who will be attending most Wisconsin home games, I turned to someone I know pretty closely: my brother. We try to make sense of this team and I obviously ask him about the legend of Nigel Hayes.
Josh: Another year, another college basketball season. I guess the good weather had to end at some point right when the games started again. Now that it's winter for the next 6 months, let's talk hoops. What do you think is realistic for your Badgers this year? I've seen rankings where they're as high as 12th which to me seems completely insane, but then again I'm not the one living in Madison.
Noah: With Bo as the coach, the expectations are always going to be high. But coming off two consecutive seasons in the Final Four and losing key players like Frank the Tank (Frank Kaminsky) and Sam Dekker will not be easy to replace. The problem with the Badgers this year is that they truly only have two proven scorers in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.
There are some freshman who might step up such as redshirt Ethan Happ who has looked very solid in the preseason. If not Happ, and there isn't a consistent third go-to guy, it might be tough for the team to meet expectations. I'd say optimistically the Badgers are expected to be in the Top-25 for the majority of the year, stay competitive by challenging to win the Big Ten, and should easily be able to continue the streak of making the tournament for every year that Bo has been head coach.
Josh: Losing Kaminsky, Dekker, Traevon and NBA rainmaker Duje Dukan is always tough, but the two guys you mentioned (Hayes and Koenig) are obviously two of the best players in the conference. Besides for them and maybe Happ, who else do you think can actually step in and play? I figure Showalter and Vitto Brown have to play some minutes, but what about the new recruits? I'm trying to wrap my head around the rotation but it seems super unclear to me.
Noah: In all honesty the uncertainty of the lineup is the major scare for a lot of Badger fans. Hayes, Koenig, Happ, Brown, and Showalter were the starting five for the exhibition game against UW-River Falls and I'd expect that to be the lineup for the home opener against Western Illinois tonight. Freshman Alex Illikainen looks to be a major contributor as a big man with the classic, Wisconsin big man 3-point touch. Khalil Iverson also looks to be a tough, hard-nosed defender and will serve as a quality backup to Koenig. Redshirt sophomore Riley Dearring also looks to help the team as a stretch wing who can defend multiple positions and can really attack the rim.
My surprise pick to be the most important player off the bench is Charlie Thomas. At 6'8", 250 pounds, the freshman out of Highland, Maryland is a real bruiser down low who can finish at the basket and looks to be a force as one of the best young rebounders in the Big Ten. The depth for this Badger squad definitely has a lot of raw talent but may take some time to develop, as they are going to rely on a lot of unproven young guys early on.
Josh: Sounds way more promising than I thought. What about Bo Ryan? There was a media frenzy this summer when Ryan announced that he was leaving at the end of this season, but then went back on his word only a month or so after. Are Badger fans focused on whether Ryan actually leaves at the end of this season or are they more focused on the season at hand? In other words, did the media blow this one out of proportion or are people sufficiently scared that this is Ryan's last season?
Noah: Ever since Bo Ryan arrived in 2001, he has been the mayor of Madison. While the football program has been successful in the last decade, Bo has undeniably made basketball the most important team in Madison. Basically, the feeling is that Bo has been so incredibly successful and Wisconsin owes him such a deal of gratitude that he can do whatever he wants.
However, there is a clear reason he took back his retirement statement so quickly. Bo bleeds red and white and at 67, probably wishes he could coach another 20 years in Madison. He has so much respect in this town that any decision he makes will be happily accepted. But as time catches up with him it looks like the end is near. I do not see Bo retiring at the end of this year but expect him to make one final push to challenge for a national championship over the next 2-3 years and end his incredible career at Wisconsin on a high note.
Josh: Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I need to know about the legend of Nigel Hayes. I've heard he's the man on campus, is an absolute jokester and seems to be the adopted son of Madison for this season. Kaminsky was obviously the guy last year, but has Hayes filled his void already? His antics leading up to the Final Four with the typographer were some of the best scenes of the postseason, and the Badgers looked like they were having an unbelievable amount of fun. Secretly, I'm hoping Hayes rides around in one of those scooters like Kaminsky and just swoons the ladyfolk of Madtown.
Noah: There is no bigger star strolling around the Madison campus than Nigel Hayes. On the court last year, he was such a key contributor and will clearly have the most on his shoulders as a leader going into this season. Off the court, however, his legend has only begun.
While most people were focused on Frank Kaminsky's goofy but incredible dance moves, Hayes has been in waiting all along to take over the reigns as the big man on campus. Between telling jokes during interviews as well as calling a reporter beautiful during a live press conference, there are no limits for what we can expect from Hayes this year. Although Hayes is expected to be an All-American on the court, his antics will lead the long tradition of fun Badger teams who can entertain off the court as well.
Thanks to Noah for taking the time to chat. Here's to the beginning of a successful Badger campaign and some fire power from Hayes and co. throughout the 2015-16 season.