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2016-17 Wisconsin Preview: the Wings

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Wisconsin vs Notre Dame Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.

Wing play is an interesting concept in the Wisconsin basketball program. The inside out, versatile offense that head coach Greg Gard has inherited – and tweaked – from Bo Ryan doesn’t rely on traditional wing players. The swing offense, which returned at Wisconsin during the second half of the 2015-16 season, cycles each player through the offense. Naturally, players like Ethan Happ spend more time in the paint than on the wing, but for the most part the Badgers don’t live by the five traditional positions.

With that being said, the Badgers have several particularly versatile players who fit the “wing” mold, even if they play at other spots on the court just as often.

Nigel Hayes

The Badgers will have the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year starting at small forward after Nigel Hayes passed on the NBA Draft to take a shot at reaching his third Final Four in four years. The 6’8” senior came to Wisconsin as a rugged forward who spent most of his time catching in the mid-post, facing up and attacking. Hayes has gradually spent more time on the perimeter, expanding his role in the offense and working to make himself more attractive to NBA scouts.

After not attempting a 3-pointer as a freshman, Hayes went to work on his jumper and shot 39.6 percent (40-for-101) from the 3-point line as a sophomore in 2014-15. He wasn’t satisfied, overhauling his jump shot last offseason to inconsistent results. Hayes’ release point has improved, but he shot just 36.8 percent (161-for-438) from the field, including 29.3 percent (39-for-133) from the 3-point line, last season.

The decline in percentages didn’t solely come from his new shooting stroke. Hayes was Wisconsin’s undisputed go-to player last season, and it was clearly an adjustment after sharing the load with Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and the outstanding 2015 senior class the prior two years. He sometimes relied too much on his jumper last season, not threatening the defense as much as he had in the past. Hayes is at his best when he’s attacking and getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 73.6 percent (190-for-258) last season.

Despite the shooting struggles, Hayes averaged 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on his way to first-team All-Big Ten honors. He enters the season as just the fifth player in Wisconsin history to collect at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists in his career.

Hayes’ versatility should allow the Badgers to match up with anyone on their schedule. He’ll be essential to Wisconsin’s usually-stingy defense. While Hayes was struggling offensively at times last season, he appeared to turn it on defensively, routinely guarding one of the opponent’s biggest offensive threats. At 6’8”, 240 pounds, Hayes can bang in the paint while also having enough quickness and length to stick in front of guys and contest shots on the perimeter.

It’ll be interesting to see how Hayes has improved his game this offseason. He’ll likely continue to add to his versatility, improving ball handling, continuing to hone that jumper and finding new ways to create his own shot.

After Hayes was named the preseason player of the year at Big Ten Media Days, he drew several comparisons to Kaminsky, who was the 2014-15 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year before leading the Badgers to the national championship game and being named the Associated Press Player of the Year. Hayes and Kaminsky are much different players, but if Hayes can lead the Badgers to another Final Four he’ll undoubtedly have one of the best careers in the history of Wisconsin basketball.

Khalil Iverson

The most stereotypical swingman on the roster may be Iverson. The 6’5”, 212-pound Iverson is coming off an up-and-down freshman year in which he burst on the scene early, playing at least 20 minutes in six of Wisconsin’s first seven games.

Once the calendar hit December, Iverson hit a bit of a wall, not seeing 20 minutes of action for 13 straight games. He came back strong against Illinois on Jan. 31, scoring a team-high 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting and adding five rebounds. Iverson saw significant playing time down the stretch, exciting Wisconsin fans with his athletic dunk attempts – successful or not.

The Delaware, Ohio native played 13.0 minutes per game on the season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game on 47.1 percent (33-for-70) shooting. Those numbers aren’t likely to skyrocket, as his jump shot is a work in progress and opportunities may be lacking with the Badgers returning everyone from last season’s Sweet 16 team except reserve guard Jordan Smith.

While there might not be many offensive opportunities coming his way, the Badgers will look for Iverson to use his athleticism to make plays on his own. Whether it’s offensive rebounding, making the right cut or getting out on the fast break, Iverson should be able to find a role and produce within the offense. But his biggest contributions may come on defense. Iverson has all the tools to guard the top guards/wings in the conference, and will likely be asked to take on that task regularly.

Zak Showalter

While Iverson and Hayes provide plenty of defensive versatility, Showalter was the stopper last season. The starting shooting guard doesn’t necessarily fit the wing definition, but he has some of the traits necessary to play the role. The 6’3” senior has always been an explosive athlete, but he didn’t play a huge role early in his career – really only getting a chance to show off that athleticism when he’d fly in for tip-dunk attempts.

After entering the starting lineup at the beginning of last season, Showalter began to show his versatility. The Badgers were continually looking for outside-shooting threats last season and the offense flowed better when Showalter was on. Showalter finished the season shooting 45.5 percent (90-for-108) from the field and 34.6 percent (37-for-107) from behind the arc, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

With the additions of Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet, the Badgers will have more shooting on the roster this year, but Showalter will still be counted on to keep the defense honest. He’s also a relentless defender on the perimeter, whether it’s getting up in the opponents face or drawing a charge. He made one of the biggest plays of the season when he drew the charge that led to Bronson Koenig’s game-winning 3-pointer in the NCAA Tournament win over Xavier.

The Rest

Aaron Moesch also saw action in 16 games last season. The 6’8” redshirt junior played just 3.0 minutes per game, but appeared in several big games that showed that Gard and the coaching staff trust him. Moesch likely won’t see much more playing time this season, but when he’s out there he’s shown he can handle his own.

One thing to watch will be the addition of Van Vliet, who missed all of last season with ineligibility issues. The Belgium native enters his sophomore year as a relative unknown. At 6’11”, Van Vliet isn’t a classic wing player, but Badgers fans have heard about his shooting touch for the last year and expect the 203-pound forward to spend plenty of time on the perimeter.

Matt Ferris is also available after redshirting last season. The 6’6” walk-on saw action in nine games as a freshman in 2014-15. Redshirt sophomore T.J. Schlundt is also back after playing in five games last year. The Badgers also added 6’8” freshman forward Aleem Ford, who spent last season playing a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Florida.

Overall

Wisconsin’s emphasis on versatility negates the reliance that some programs have on one or two do-it-all wings. But the Badgers likely have the best wing in the Big Ten in Hayes. Iverson should be one of Wisconsin’s main cogs in the future, but he’ll likely fill in the gaps in Wisconsin’s deep, experienced roster this. Hayes and the Badgers weren’t shy about their goals at Big Ten Media Day, discussing their goal of returning to the Final Four and hopefully taking the next step and winning the national title. But improvement doesn’t just happen with another year of experience. If the players develop the way that they typically do at Wisconsin, there’s a chance that the Badgers can make a run at those goals.