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Could Next Year's Wisconsin Badgers Repeat Indiana and Michigan? Big Ten Champs To No Postseason?

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Indiana and Michigan's slide from Big Ten Champions to missing the NIT has been well detailed, but is 2015-16 Wisconsin the track to repeat the Hoosiers' and Wolverines' struggles?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers are coming off one of, if not their best, two year run in program history.  Frank Kaminsky is still busy trying to find spots to store all the hardware he received as the National Player of the Year.  Head coach Bo Ryan is finding a spot to store the nets from the team's Big Ten title and Final Four run.  It's a great time to be a Badger.

But what if I told you that Wisconsin could be setting up to miss the 2016 NCAA Tournament?

For a second, jump back to last summer when expectations were sky-high for the Badgers.  Though everything was about to go right for Wisconsin, everything was about to go wrong for Michigan.  Though the Michigan Wolverines were coming off their first outright Big Ten regular season title in decades, the team was also faced with the challenge of overcoming massive offseason attrition due to graduation, the NBA Draft, and transfer.

Due to this attrition, I posted an article last summer looking at whether Michigan could lose enough to not only take a step back, but actually miss the NCAA Tournament altogether.  The notion seemed absurd on its face.  How could a team that just won the Big Ten miss the Big Dance the following year?  Well, my piece was based around the trajectory of the Indiana Hoosiers from the year prior.  Indiana had won the Big Ten title in 2012-13, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament the following season.  The question was whether Michigan would repeat the trend?

The answer was a resounding yes.

Not only did Michigan miss the NCAA Tournament, but they failed to even make the NIT.  The team ended up finishing 16-16 overall with losses to Eastern Michigan, NJIT, and Northwestern among others.  In one season, the Wolverines fell from elite to mediocre status.  There were numerous issues that led to Michigan's quick demise, but ultimately, it was the significant offseason losses that doomed Michigan to their lengthy drop.

The story was the same a year earlier with Indiana.  The Hoosiers saw star players Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller head to the NBA and other key contributors like Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford leave the program due to graduation.  Indiana had their moments in 2013-14, but like Michigan, they not only failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but also failed to make the NIT.

The similarities between the two teams was quick remarkable, which brings us back to the Badgers.  Wisconsin had a remarkable 2014-15 season featuring a Big Ten title and a National Championship game appearance, but are now seeing massive offseason attrition.  Not only is Wisconsin losing star players Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, but contributors like Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson will also be leaving the program

On paper, it appears that Wisconsin could be setting itself up to follow the recent trend of Indiana and Michigan from the past two seasons.  However, that does not necessarily mean that Wisconsin will follow the same trajectory.  As such, this article will look at how Wisconsin compares to these two teams and whether the Badgers could be aligned to miss the 2016 NCAA Tournament next season.

1. Setting The Table

As mentioned above, the basic details of Indiana and Michigan's paths have been laid out.  Both teams won the Big Ten regular season title and then followed that up with lacklusters seasons that ended in no postseason bids.  Conveniently enough, both teams also finished 9th in the Big Ten regular season standings.

Changes From Year Prior

‘13-'14 Indiana

‘14-'15 Michigan

Wins

-12

-12

Big Ten Standings

-8

-8

KenPom

-64

-65

RPI

-92

-70

All-B1G Players

-2

-1

How did both Indiana and Michigan end up falling victim to this fate?  The simple answer for both teams was that they lost too much during the offseason.  Indiana saw 5 players depart in the offseason in one form or another including the Big Ten Player of the Year, 2 players that earned All-Big Ten honors this season, a Preseason All-American, and another player that made the All-Big Ten Defensive team at one point.  Michigan largely mirrored these losses with 5 players leaving including the Big Ten Player of the Year, a player that earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, a Preseason All-American, and another player that made the All-Big Ten Defensive team at one point.  The similarities between the two teams is still stunning, especially knowing their paths.

This brings us to Wisconsin.  This offseason, Wisconsin is set to lose 5 players, including the Big Ten Player of the Year, a player that earned All-Big Ten 2nd Team honors, and a player that earned All-Big Ten Defensive team honors this season.  In total minutes, Wisconsin is losing its #1, #3, #4, #6, and #7 players from this season.  There are certainly some differences between the Badgers this offseason and Indiana and Michigan the years before, but there are certainly some major similarities on paper.  Just take a look at how the numbers compare.

'13-'14 Indiana, '14-'15 Michigan, & '15-'16 Wisconsin Offseason Losses

Offseason Losses

‘13-'14 Indiana

‘14-'15 Michigan

‘15-'16 Wisconsin

Lost Minutes

57.0%

52.7%

61.9%

Lost Points

66.0%

57.2%

65.7%

Lost Rebounds

60.0%

58.1%

60.7%

Lost Blocks

70.0%

79.5%

70.1%

Lost Win Shares

68.5%

60.0%

65.8%

(Stats via Sports Reference.)

Not only is Wisconsin right with Indiana and Michigan in these statistical losses, but they are also either #1 or #2 among the group in all five statistical categories cited above.  Essentially, they not only lose everything Indiana and Michigan lost, but might even have lost more than those two teams.

For Wisconsin fans, those have to be some startling numbers not only because they are massive losses, but also because we already know what happened to both Indiana and Michigan.  During the 2013 offseason, we heard about how Indiana's recruiting class would overcome their offseason losses, but they ended up failing to make the postseason.  Similarly, during the 2014 offseason, we heard about how John Beilein's coaching would overcome Michigan's offseason losses, but the Wolverines ended up missing the postseason as well.  Perhaps Wisconsin can reverse the trend, but the similarities are striking.

2. The Teams Themselves

Of course, as any person will tell you, stats don't always tell the full story.  Perhaps you lose a key guy at one spot, but have a replacement at the ready.  In order to get a deeper understanding of the comparison between these Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin teams, I have assembled the scholarship players below.  What I have done is order them according to win shares.  If a player was a freshman, they were ordered by their 247Composite rating.  Here is how the teams compared:

'13-'14 Indiana, '14-'15 Michigan, & '15-'16 Wisconsin Rosters:

‘13-'14 Indiana

Win Shares/Recruit Rankings

‘14-'15 Michigan

Win Shares/Recruit Rankings

‘15-'16 Wisconsin

Win Shares/Recruit Rankings

Will Sheehey

4.0

Caris LeVert

4.4

Nigel Hayes

7.1

Kevin Ferrell

3.3

Derrick Walton

2.9

Bronson Koenig

4.3

Jeremy Hollowell

0.8

Spike Albrecht

1.9

Zak Showalter

1.3

Hanner Mosquera-Perea

0.3

Zak Irvin

1.9

Vitto Brown

0.5

Austin Etherington

0.2

Max Bielfeldt

0.1

Riley Dearring

0.0

Peter Jurkin

0.0

Mark Donnal*

4*

Brevin Pritzl

4*

Noah Vonleh

5*

Kameron Chatman

4*

Alex Illikainen

4*

Troy Williams

4*

DJ Wilson

4*

Ethan Happ*

3*

Stanford Robinson

4*

Ricky Doyle

3*

Charlie Thomas

3*

Luke Fischer

4*

Aubrey Dawkins

3*

Khalil Iverson

3*

Devin Davis

3*

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

2*

-- --

Collin Hartman

3*

Austin Hatch

N/A

-- --

(Stats via SportsReference.com247Sports.com)

This is the first comparison that appears to favor Wisconsin.  Though the top returners for Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin are generally pretty close, there is one key divider, which is nearly a 3 game win share gap between Nigel Hayes and any other player on the list above.  From a statistically perspective, Hayes is easily the best returner of the three teams.  In a game that is so often decided by star power, this cannot be undersold.

The Badgers also hold up relatively well through the top four spots.  In fact, among the top four players, Wisconsin will return more win shares than either 2013-14 Indiana or 2014-15 Michigan.  Much of this is clearly due to the play of Hayes, but the implication here is that Wisconsin may have a stronger core than either of those teams next year.

Unfortunately for Wisconsin, this is where the big questions begin.  They return no win shares outside of their top four and have the weakest incoming recruiting class of the three teams on paper.  Not only are they currently set to bring in fewer prospects than Indiana and Michigan did, but they lack the elite 5-star Indiana had in Noah Vonleh and the depth Michigan brought in with three 4-star prospects.  We can nit-pick how prospects performed for Indiana and Michigan now, but it's impossible to project how Wisconsin's freshmen will perform next season, so we are left to compare their original evaluations on paper.

One note that should be added for Wisconsin is that Ethan Happ redshirted last season, so he should not be considered as a traditional 3-star prospect.  However, Michigan's Mark Donnal also redshirted before last season, so the Badgers are not even unique in this aspect.  The only other thing to note is that Wisconsin has two scholarships that they could still use before next season.  Perhaps Bo Ryan can find a diamond in the rough before the season.

3. Perspectives on 2015-16 Wisconsin

Of course, even with all the statistical measures, there is no sure-fire way to predict how Wisconsin will perform next year and whether they make the 2016 NCAA Tournament.  Considering this, I decided I would use some of the information we have gathered here to give a bit of "spin" in support of Wisconsin repeating 2013-14 Indiana and 2014-15 Michigan and against Wisconsin repeating 2013-14 Indiana and 2014-15 Michigan.  Here we go:

Why 2015-16 Wisconsin Will Repeat The Trend

The Badgers are going to lose a lot this offseason.  In fact, they're going to lose a ton.  I could recite all the numbers listed above, but if it's not obvious by now, I will say it again: Wisconsin is going to lose a lot this offseason.  No matter how much anyone wants to talk about key returners, incoming recruits, or bench contributors that could step up, the underlying fact is that Wisconsin is probably losing the majority of its contributions from last season.  Sure, they were a great team, but most of that team in terms of statistical contributions will be gone.

The return of Hayes and Koenig shouldn't be undersold, but we saw plenty of Big Ten teams last year with a quality player or two that struggled significantly.  Malcolm Hill and Rayvonte Rice were really good for Illinois, Andre Hollins and Nate Mason were good for Minnesota, and Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields made big contributions for Nebraska, but all three teams failed to make the NCAA Tournament.  Maybe Hayes and Koenig are better than those groups, but you are going to need more than just two guys to be a good team.

Past the two top returners, Wisconsin fans are going to be scratching their heads all offseason.  There certainly could be players to emerge, but the Badgers are no longer looking for a player or two to emerge.  They need three starters and at least one backup contributor to step up.  That's a pretty big challenge on its face, but Wisconsin also has to do it with a weaker recruiting class than either 2013-14 Indiana and 2014-15 Michigan had on paper.  Bo Ryan is a great coach, but he also can't make water into wine.

Wisconsin has some pieces coming back and certainly reasons for optimism next season, but when you break down how the roster sits, there's just simply too much going out and too little coming in.  As such, the Badgers are set to repeat the fates of 2013-14 Indiana and 2014-15 Michigan.

Why 2015-16 Wisconsin Will Not Repeat The Trend

Numbers are great.  They allow us take a step back and understand the game in ways that are often difficult to conceptualize without statistics.  They really have fundamentally changed the way fans, players, and the media view the game, especially with the recent additions of advanced statistics.

Having said that, numbers are also just numbers.  I can cite the fact that Wisconsin is losing 65.8% of their win shares from last season, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are impossible to replace or that Wisconsin is going to be a bad team.  The same can be said for recruiting rankings.  Though these rankings are generally a reliable indicator of a prospect's potential at the college and professional levels, they have their issues as well.  They don't let you peel back and see a player's heart, desire, and how they play with others as a group.

Numbers also don't adjust for your coach.

Since Bo Ryan has come to Wisconsin, the Badgers have never finished outside the Top 4 in the Big Ten regular season standings.  Let me repeat that.  Wisconsin has been lower than #4 in the Big Ten since Bo Ryan took over in Madison.  That is an incredible statistic, especially considering that the Big Ten has arguably been as good as it has ever been as a conference over the last few years.  Wisconsin has become a machine and even if you put down numbers on paper, Bo Ryan has shown that he will find contributors, depth, and a team strategy that can keep Wisconsin competitive in the Big Ten.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, Wisconsin brings back a player that was better than anything 2013-14 Indiana and 2014-15 Michigan brought back on paper in Nigel Hayes.  The Badgers also bring back Bronson Koenig who is probably a better returner than is shown on paper because he didn't play as much earlier in the season.  Both could very realistically be in consideration for All-Big Ten or All-Big Ten 2nd Team honors when all is said and done next season.  No team can become great with just two guys, but that's a huge start.  In fact, it's probably good enough of a core that Wisconsin might only need to find one other real contributor to make the team competitive.  If so, their challenge becomes much easier for next season.

Wisconsin is going to lose a lot this offseason, but when you go solely outside of the numbers on paper, there are plenty of reasons to think the Badgers buck the recent trend of Big Ten champions.