After making it to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons, the Wisconsin Badgers began the 2015-2016 campaign by losing to Western Illinois. The losses kept piling up, losing to in-state rivals Milwaukee and Marquette before falling to Georgetown and Oklahoma. The Badgers limped out of nonconference play with five losses already under their belt.
When Big Ten play began, things did not get any better. Wisconsin lost four of its first five conference games and seemed to be well on its way to missing the NCAA Tournament, which it had made each year since 2000.
Oh, you can't forget that the Badgers also were trying to win under interim coach Greg Gard after longtime coach Bo Ryan retired in mid-December.
Of course you know how the season turned out, with the Badgers finishing 12-6 in Big Ten play and making a run to the Sweet 16 before losing in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame.
As the Badgers prepare for the upcoming NCAA season, it does so with the same nucleus of players as last year's team. In fact, the Badgers graduated just one senior, Jordan Smith.
With Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ leading the way, the Badgers again will look to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. The question now becomes, "Are there any newcomers that can help them get there?"
The Badgers have two new recruits from commitments, Aleem Ford and D'Mitrik Trice, that may both find their way into the rotation during the coming season. Wisconsin also gains the services of Andy Van Vliet, a 2015 recruit that was ruled ineligible after not enrolling in college within a year of graduating high school. Wisconsin also gets 2015 recruit Brevin Prtizl back from injury and a walk-on in Michael Ballard.
Starting with Trice and Ford, coming from IMG Academy, the Badgers gain a point guard and forward for the future. Notably, Trice is the younger brother of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice. He will give the Badgers some much-needed depth at the guard position and be able to back up Koenig when he needs a breather. Trice will not be looked at to pick up a ton of minutes, but he should be able to develop while learning from Koenig and Zak Showalter.
With Ford, the situation will be similar as the Badgers have a number of forwards already on the team; Hayes, Khalil Iverson, Alex Illikainen and Vitto Brown will take up a majority of the minutes. Ford, like Trice, could choose to redshirt their freshmen year and be ready to take over for a graduating class that includes Koenig, Showalter, Hayes and Brown. If Ford and Trice do not redshirt, I'd expect them to play under 10 minutes a game.
Van Vliet might also be a big reason for Ford to choose to redshirt. Van Vliet is listed as the tallest Badgers player at six foot, 11 inches and has reportedly added 20 pounds since arriving on campus. He should provide valuable minutes off the bench at either forward spot or at center. He has shown a 3-point touch in the past and should become another Badger big man that can play inside or outside.
After breaking his left foot last season, Pritzl should also make his mark in his first full season with the Badgers. The all-time leading scorer at De Pere High Schol, Pritzl should be able to handle either guard position with a six foot, three inch, 185 pound frame. I'd expect Pritzl to handle anywhere from eight-15 minutes a game, depending on how many other guards choose to play this season.
With the walk-on Ballard, the Badgers gain a bigger guard. Standing at six foot, five inches, Ballard can use his height as a guard to shoot or pass over smaller defenders. He will likely serve as a bench warmer if he does not redshirt, playing when the Badgers are in a blowout game.
While the Badgers do not need to fill any minutes lost from departing players, Wisconsin gains a number of players that could potentially fill bigger roles in the coming seasons. Look for Trice, Ford, Van Vliet, Pritzl and Ballard to serve as role players this coming season, with a few choosing to redshirt.