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2017-’18 Wisconsin Badgers Season Preview

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BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Wisconsin Badgers and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2017-’18 season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Wisconsin vs Florida Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-’18 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2017-’18 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.

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There are few constants in college sports. With rosters constantly changing, head coaches rapidly moving between schools, and teams joining new conferences, change is really the only constant across the college landscape. It’s a sport that recreates itself each offseason and programs hinge on the decisions of 17-year-olds.

But over the last two decades, Wisconsin basketball has been a constant.

Since 1999, Wisconsin has won at least 18 games and made the NCAA Tournament every single season. The Badgers have also finished in the top four in the Big Ten standings in each of those 18 seasons and won a plethora of significant league and NCAA Tournament matchups. This run also included four regular season Big Ten titles, three Big Ten Tournament titles, and 10 trips to the Sweet 16.

Those are marks most programs would kill for.

And while, admittedly, things haven’t been perfect, it’s tough to nitpick much about the last two decades for the Badgers. Yes, the program didn’t win a national title. And, yes, it blew some opportunities for deep NCAA Tournament runs. But there’s a reason why Wisconsin now boasts the nation’s fourth-longest Tournament streak. Wisconsin has performed at an elite level and should get the credit for playing at that level.

However, those streaks could be in jeopardy this season. Even though the Badgers are coming off (another) Sweet 16 appearance and trip to the Big Ten Tournament final, Wisconsin is losing a substantial portion of last year’s roster, including four starters. Ethan Happ returns, but even he might not be able to overcome the departures.

This is also a crucial season for young head coach Greg Gard. While he did lead the Badgers to Sweet 16 trips in each of the last two seasons, this if the first year in which the roster will be primarily composed of his players. This is no longer Bo Ryan’s team and program. Fans will now truly get a taste of where Gard is going to take the Badgers. And even if there’s nothing to indicate Gard can’t lead the program to success it is a question mark.

All told, Wisconsin enters this season with real questions for the first time in years. The Badgers have been one of the few constants in college basketball, but that could be on the line this season. It will take quite an effort from Gard and his staff to overcome what looks like nearly insurmountable offseason departures.

Let’s see if the Badgers can find a way.

BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast

Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Wisconsin Badgers, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Badgers, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Bart Torvik breaking down Wisconsin's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.

1. 2016-’17 Season Performance

  • Record: 27-10 (12-6)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #21
  • RPI Rating: #36
  • Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (S16)

While there’s little denying that Wisconsin had a successful 2016-’17 season, how things actually unfolded on the court were actually pretty bizarre. The Badgers saw mixed results early in the season, fantastic results from late November through mid-February, struggled near the end of the regular season, and then showed up in March. And it wasn’t the result of a varying schedule, either. Wisconsin just happened to swing between good and bad during the course of the season.

Nonetheless, the final results were pretty impressive. Wisconsin finished at 27-10 overall, made the Big Ten Tournament final, and made the Sweet 16 after a massive upset win over Villanova. The team also won 18 games against top 100 KenPom opponents with 11 of those coming over top 50 opponents. Even if Wisconsin has accomplished more in recent seasons, that’s still a pretty solid performance.

As mentioned, however, things started with a dud. Wisconsin won its first game, but dropped a road game to Creighton and then followed that up shortly thereafter with a loss to North Carolina in Maui. The Badgers did finish non-conference play with wins over Georgetown, Marquette, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Syracuse, but only Marquette would end up making the NCAA Tournament. Not what you would expect for a nationally relevant Badger squad.

Following that mixed start, Wisconsin went on a run. The team won its final seven games of non-conference play and 17 of 18 games after the team’s loss to North Carolina. It was a run that pushed the team to 21-3 overall and earned the Badgers quality wins over Indiana (twice), Marquette, Michigan, and Minnesota. Wisconsin was considered to be one of the nation’s top squads at that point and in contention for a top seed in March.

Unfortunately, things went off track afterward. Wisconsin had some injury issues and dropped five of its next six games, including two matchups at home and a game against Ohio State. This rough patch dropped Wisconsin from 10th on KenPom to 21st and pushed the Badgers out of Big Ten title contention. However, the team once again recovered, winning its final regular season game, making the Big Ten Tournament final, and then pulling off two huge wins in the NCAA Tournament to make the Sweet 16.

Overall, Wisconsin was a really good team last season. The Badgers probably weren’t great, but the team still got back to the NCAA Tournament, won 27 games, and made the Sweet 16. Most programs would view that as a tremendous season. At Wisconsin, it’s just an ordinary calendar year.

Individual statistical leaders were Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig. Happ led the team in rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, usage, and win shares. Hayes led the team in minutes. Koenig led the team in points.

2. Offseason Exits

Many Big Ten teams got off easy with regard to offseason departures this year. The conference was a young one last season and many of the teams are finally feeling the positive effects of that youth. Rosters will look quite similar across the league with plenty of the top players having familiar faces.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not one of those teams.

The Badgers are losing a massive amount of contributions from last season. Not only is the team losing four starters, but it’s also losing an experienced player off the bench as well. Those players are Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, Jordan Hill, Bronson Koenig, and Zak Showalter. Four of those five played at least 50 percent of the team’s minutes.

That’s, uh, a lot of playing time.

In fact, to put those departures into context, just consider that those five players accounted for 60.1 percent of the team’s total minutes last season and 64.4 percent of the playing time in the team’s finale against Florida. The return of Happ will help to smooth things over, but those are massive losses. Replacing that kind of production for any team and in any given offseason would be a challenging endeavor.

Things also look even worse when you consider that Hayes and Koenig were two of Wisconsin’s all-time greats. Hayes scored more than 1,800 career points and Koenig finished just shy of 1,500 himself. The two were also huge parts of two Final Four appearances, a Big Ten regular season title, a Big Ten Tournament title, and four-straight trips to the Sweet 16. How many players have a resume like that?

And Koenig’s departure, specifically, his difficult to rate simply by statistical contributions. Not only did he average 14.5 points and 2.1 rebounds a game last season, but he was incredible in crunch time. Koenig hit big shot after big shot and the team would have lost a plethora of games without him in closing time. In fact, when he was limited with injury last season, Wisconsin went 1-5 near the end of Big Ten play. Not an encouraging sign for what’s to come without him.

Wisconsin’s departing role players were also significant contributors. Showalter played in 75 career games with the Badgers and Brown developed into a reliable wing and frontcourt option as an upperclassmen. Neither of those players were phenomenal, but they were consistent and productive. And when you’re already looking at replacing multiple program greats, reliability is a positive thing to have on the roster.

No amount of departures is ever going to make a season a “lost cause” for a program. However, it’s hard to categorize these losses as anything other than massive. The Badgers will look entire different than the team did last year everywhere except center. Finding a way to overcome these losses will determine the season.

3. New Additions

This season, the Badgers are adding three incoming recruits and two walk-ons. The new recruits are Brad Davison, Kobe King, and Nathan Reuvers and the walk-ons are Trevor Anderson and Walt McGrory. Davison is listed as a point guard, King is listed as a shooting guard, and Reuvers is listed as a power forward. Both Davison and Reuvers are rated as four-star prospects per 247Sports and King is listed as a three-star.

While Reuvers was actually the highest rated prospect, the two players who seem to have the highest hopes for this season are Davison and King. The two guards have already been great in exhibition play, including a 17-point performance from King in the team’s win over UW-Stout. King is a nice shooter and ball handler that figures to be a quality addition to the team’s backcourt.

Davison projects to the next great guard in Wisconsin’s backcourt. He is a player with a high basketball IQ that can facilitate on offense at a high level. Whether he has the offensive skillset to play at an elite level in Big Ten play remains to be seen, but there’s little disputing that he should fit in well to what Wisconsin runs offensively. Davison was rated 107th nationally and as the third best player in Minnesota.

The final addition is Reuvers, who is considered to be a pretty raw prospect, but one with a lot of upside. Reuvers was rated 65th nationally and attached attention from a number of Big Ten programs. The two other additions are Anderson and McGrory. Neither is expected to contribute much this season and Anderson actually has to redshirt after transferring to Madison from Green Bay.

All told, Wisconsin brings in a talented group that should be an impactful one for the Badgers during this season and in the future. Davison and King should both get minutes in the backcourt and Reuvers should provide depth at a position of need with the departures of Brown and Hayes.

4. Points of Optimism

While there are a lot of questions about this year’s roster, Wisconsin fans should have some legitimate optimism heading into this season. And there’s little doubt any positive outlooks on this year’s Badgers have to start upfront with Ethan Happ. The big man was the best player on last year’s team and will be back for another season.

During last season, Happ averaged an impressive 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game and was pivotal to the team’s runner-up finish in the Big Ten and its trip to the Sweet 16. Happ was also extremely efficient while on the court, finishing with a 113.1 offensive rating and a 58.6 effective field goal percentage. By season’s end, Happ was named to the first-team All-Big Ten and a Naismith Trophy semi-finalist.

Happ certainly won’t be able to win games by himself, but there aren’t many teams that have a player of his caliber on their roster. That’s a huge boost. He will give the Badgers a piece to build around and will make up for a lot of mistakes from teammates. The only question about his play will be whether Wisconsin ends up leaning too heavily on him. Otherwise, Happ should perform at an All-Big Ten level.

Wisconsin also returns some key bench players around Happ. Both D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl return in the backcourt and Khalil Iverson and Alex Illikainen are back on the wing. None of those players were outstanding last season, but all averaged at least 8.3 minutes a game and Iverson and Trice saw significant minutes by season’s end. They will provide the Badgers with some experience as they try to replace so many upperclassmen.

Additionally, Wisconsin is also adding plenty of new pieces that should fill in behind the returners as well. To start, Wisconsin is adding the Big Ten’s fifth-ranked recruiting class that boasts two top 100ish prospects. Even if you aren’t a believer in recruiting rankings, that’s an encouraging sign. The team is also getting Aleem Ford off a redshirt, which should add another option for Gard and his staff. None of the newcomers look like “sure” things heading into this season, but there are certainly a lot of decent options. Some of these players will be productive.

Moreover, Gard and his staff have also shown they know how to develop players and fill out a roster. This may be the first year that Wisconsin is truly Gard’s program, but his track record is encouraging. And that isn’t something to overlook. Plenty of programs wish they had a coach who won half as much as Gard over the last two years.

Since taking the job, Gard has won without elite NBA talent and has done so with quality recruiting, development, and player retention. Players like Happ, Hayes, and Koenig weren’t elite prospects. Nonetheless, they led the Badgers to multiple Sweet 16 appearances and massive success in the Big Ten. Maybe those players were unique gets for Gard and Bo Ryan, but that development should encourage fans about the program’s ability to replace depth and talent going forward.

5. Points of Concern

Well, Badger fans had to know this was coming at some point and we can’t avoid it any longer. Wisconsin is losing a lot from last season. Like, a lot. And really, that’s probably even putting it mildly. The Badgers are looking at replacing (virtually) every key player from last year’s roster with the exception of Happ. No matter how you slice it, that’s easily the program’s biggest concern entering this season.

There are a lot of ways to try and contextualize what the Badgers are losing, but perhaps the easiest way is by looking at the team’s offensive production. The five departing players combined to averaged 45.1 points per game during last season. As a team, Wisconsin averaged 72.4. If the Badgers want to be anywhere near last season’s marks, Gard and his staff need to find a way to replace 45 points a game.

That’s, uh, not easy.

And, as mentioned above, all points aren’t created equal. Players like Hayes and Koenig were capable of getting tough buckets in the biggest moments. After all, Wisconsin doesn’t get past Villanova without 19 points from Hayes and it doesn’t even get to face Villanova without 28 points from Koenig in the team’s first round game against Virginia Tech. Teams don’t just replace production like that overnight.

This is also an important time to mention the mixed array of characters that Wisconsin is looking at to replace these four departed seniors. The only two players that saw significant minutes last season were Iverson and Trice and neither was particularly impressive. Trice did perform well outside the arc and Iverson did a good job on the boards, but both had turnover concerns and were inconsistent.

All the other options have little to no experience. Alex Illikainen, Charlie Thomas, and Andy Van Vliet have mixed (at best) contributions in the frontcourt, Brevin Pritzl averaged 8.6 minutes per game last season, and everyone else is a freshman or redshirt freshman. Even if somebody breaks out from this group, there are a lot of unknowns here and that’s not a good sign when a program is faced with replacing four starters.

Realistically, Wisconsin fans will have to hope that: (1) Trice and Iverson both take steps forward; (2) one of the remaining returners can surprise; and (3) that at least one freshman is capable of starting. If any one of these three things don’t happen, Wisconsin is going to take a step back. After all, Wisconsin isn’t looking at just finding bodies to fill out starting roles. It needs to find (likely multiple) productive starters that can play at an All-Big Ten level.

Additionally, Wisconsin also has the added challenge of trying to find new bench contributors. Players like Iverson and Trice filled that role this season, but will likely be moving into starting roles now. The likely choice to fill this void will be the incoming freshmen. And that’s not an unrealistic expectation, either. There’s a list that’s a mile long of freshmen who were able to contribute as bench options.

However, the tricky part about assuming the freshmen will fill this bench void also requires acknowledging that one (if not more) of the freshmen will likely compete for starting roles this season. Expecting a freshman or two to contribute off the bench is one thing, but expecting one to start and one or two more to provide valuable bench minutes is another. There are other players that can fill the bench void, but the point here is that fans start asking for a lot when for a program to avoid regression when it loses this many players.

Wisconsin does have the personnel and talent to overcome many of these issues, but the team’s massive departures will put a lot of pressure on young players to be productive early in their careers. And that’s not usually usually an encouraging sign heading into a new season. We’ve seen teams like Indiana and Michigan go down similar paths over the last decade and it led to some rough patches. Badgers fans will hope it doesn’t happen to them.

6. Top Player

For the second straight season, Happ will return as Wisconsin’s top player. There might have been some debate as to whether Hayes or Koenig could push him for the top spot last year, but that resolved quickly. Happ ended up being named first-team All-Big Ten and averaging 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. He also had a 113.1 offensive rating and finished 22nd nationally in steal rate. A quality player on both sides of the floor.

The only real limitation to Happ’s game is his ineffective shooting. He didn’t attempt a single shot from three-point range during last season and hit an underwhelming 50.0 percent from the free-throw line. Given the extended minutes he sees, both of those numbers are weak spots for the big man. Happ is certainly still a dynamic player, but those are areas where he could improve.

With his return, there won’t be any drama as to who Wisconsin’s best player is this season. The only discussion will be whether anybody can push him. The top choices figure to be Iverson and Trice. Neither was particularly impressive last season, but both played a lot and are the team’s most proven returners. Given Wisconsin’s history of player development, one of these two should be pretty solid.

The other wildcards will be the program’s incoming recruits. Davison and King should both play in the backcourt and Reuvers arrives on campus as a top 100 prospect. It’s pretty unlikely any of these three can seriously push Happ for the role as the team’s best player, but it wouldn’t be surprising if any of the three hit the ground running. Expect at least one to make a mark early in their career.

However, regardless of what the freshmen or returners do this season, Happ should run away with this distinction this season. He’s the lone returning starter for the Badgers and should (once again) be a star.

7. 2017-’18 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/1 - UNI (Ex.)
  • 11/5 - UW_Stout (Ex.)
  • 11/10 - South Carolina State
  • 11/12 - Yale
  • 11/16 - Xavier
  • 11/20 - Baylor (Kansas City, KS)
  • 11/21 - Creighton/UCLA (Kansas City, KS)
  • 11/24 - Milwaukee
  • 11/27 - at Virginia
  • 12/2 - Ohio State
  • 12/4 - at Penn State
  • 12/6 - at Temple
  • 12/9 - Marquette
  • 12/13 - Western Kentucky
  • 12/23 - Green Bay
  • 12/27 - Chicago State
  • 12/30 - UMass Lowell
  • 1/2 - Indiana
  • 1/5 - at Rutgers
  • 1/9 - at Nebraska
  • 1/16 - at Purdue
  • 1/19 - Illinois
  • 1/23 - at Iowa
  • 1/26 - at Michigan State
  • 1/29 - Nebraska
  • 2/1 - Northwestern
  • 2/4 - at Maryland
  • 2/8 - at Illinois
  • 2/11 - Michigan
  • 2/15 - Purdue
  • 2/19 - Minnesota
  • 2/22 - at Northwestern
  • 2/25 - Michigan State

Let’s not mince words with regard to Wisconsin’s upcoming schedule. It’s going to be difficult. In fact, Wisconsin’s schedule looks so challenging that I actually think it could end up being a hinderance on Selection Sunday. The tough games abound on this slate and few wins are guaranteed. Wisconsin will have its work cut out all year.

In non-conference play, Wisconsin will get marquee games against Baylor, Marquette, Virginia, Xavier, and another game against either Creighton or UCLA. All five of those games are going to be difficult and only two of the matchups come at home. Last year’s team probably would have had to work in those games and this year’s team could end up being significantly weaker than that team.

On top of those five games, Wisconsin is also getting a matchup with Yale, a trip to Temple, and in-state games against Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Badgers should be favored in all four of those games, but there could be some upset implications. Yale and Temple are quality squads and the other two will have some extra motivation against an in-state foe.

What this leaves Wisconsin with is a non-conference slate where the team could end up going 9-4 or worse. Maybe that sounds pessimistic, but the Badgers will be underdogs against Baylor and Virginia, narrowly favored against Xavier, and will have another matchup against Creighton or UCLA. And that doesn't even include the numerous other tricky games. There are a lot of potential losses.

The Badgers will also get a challenging league schedule that includes double-plays against Michigan State, Northwestern, and Purdue. Along with that, Wisconsin will also get Iowa and Maryland on the road. The team does avoid having to play at Michigan or Minnesota, but those eight games still compose nearly half the schedule.

However, one aspect of Wisconsin’s Big Ten schedule that bears mentioning is the number of winnable road games that the team will get this season. Notably, Wisconsin is getting Illinois, Nebraska, Penn State, and Rutgers all on the road. There’s a reasonable chance that the Badgers are favored in all of those matchups. Maybe this is an elementary approach, but if Wisconsin takes care of business at home and wins just those road games, it can get to 13-5 in Big Ten play. That’s an encouraging sign.

Another important area of Wisconsin’s schedule that fans will have to keep in mind is the Big Ten’s decision to add two league games in December. Fans have seen the Badgers start slow and improve during the winter. However, with games against Ohio State and Penn State in early December, that transition might have to happen a little bit sooner this time around. These early games won’t prevent the Badgers from trending up as the soon continues, but it could add some extra pressure.

Schedules will never make or break any season or team. Even if a team has an unusually high number of challenging games, it can find a way to prosper and get the job done. However, schedules can make things far more difficult on teams. This could be the case for Wisconsin this season. To overcome that, Wisconsin will need to protect home court and take care of business against underwhelming opponents.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: D’Mitrik Trice (So.) - 80%
  • SG: Brevin Pritzl (Rs. So.) - 55%
  • SF: Khalil Iverson (Jr.) - 85%
  • PF: Andy Van Vliet (Jr.) - 60%
  • C: Ethan Happ (Rs. Jr.) - 95%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

While some Big Ten teams will have little drama with regard to determining their starting lineup, Wisconsin won’t fall into that category this season. The team returns just one starter and will have a massive amount of competition for the remaining spots. There is talent, but few proven commodities.

At point guard, Trice figures to be the favorite to start heading into this season. He is second on the team in returning minutes from last season and showed some sparks off the bench. Trice averaged 5.6 points and 1.7 assists per game and shot an impressive 41.8 percent from three-point range during last season. One would expect that his overall production will only increase with extended minutes.

Alongside Trice should be an interesting battle. Pritzl is the player that returns with experience, but he will have to hold off newcomer Kobe King. Pritzl averaged 8.6 minutes a game and only had a 40.8 effective field goal percentage during last season. There’s little debating that he will have to improve from those numbers if he’s going to remain in the starting position for very long.

Wisconsin’s backcourt bench minutes will come from Brad Davison and King. The two freshmen have a lot of hype entering this season and will get corresponding playing time. Don’t be shocked if either of these players ends up around 20 minutes a game by season’s end. In fact, Badger fans will probably be hoping that happens, as it would mean good things for the team’s chances for this year and beyond.

On the wing, Iverson figures to lock down a starting role after developing into one of the team’s more utilized players last season. While his overall numbers weren’t all that impressive, Iverson did play over 20 minutes in each of the team’s NCAA Tournament games and scored 11 points against Virginia Tech. He will certainly lockdown one spot. The question will just be who plays alongside him and as his backup.

The top candidates to get playing time alongside Iverson will be Alex Illikainen and Van Vliet. The two will both be upperclassmen heading into this season and fans will be hoping they can take a step forward. While Van Vliet should have the upper hand entering this season given his length and size, it should be an active battle for the duration of the season. Aleem Ford and Charlie Thomas should also provide wing depth.

Finally, the center position should be a pretty one to figure out for the Badgers. Happ will lock down the spot from start to finish. The only drama will be who comes in behind him. Perhaps the most intriguing option would be to slide over Van Vliet and let one of the other forwards move into the four spot. Happ only played 68.5 percent of the team’s minutes last season, so there will be minutes for the taking.

All told, Wisconsin enters this season with plenty of questions in its starting lineup. Happ will be a mainstay upfront, but everything else will be fluid. Fans will have to hope that Iverson and Trice can lock down spots after successful freshmen seasons and that players like King and Van Vliet can push for starting roles. The battle for minutes off the bench should also be interesting over the course of the season.

9. Team Perspective From Bart Torvik of T Rank

“Wisconsin has such consistent track record of solid success—often in the face of doubters and naysayers—that it’s a bit foolish to pick against them. But there are legitimate reasons to think this might be the year that one or both of the Sacred Streaks (19 straight trips to the tourney, 17 straight top-4 finishes) come to an end. First, the Badgers return just one starter (Ethan Happ) from last year, and only two other significant contributors (Khalil Iverson and D’Mitrik Trice). That means they’ll have at least two newbies in the starting lineup, and no proven bench players.

One key to the Badgers’ consistent success has been that they’ve rarely suffered such tumultuous turnover. The years in which they have had to mostly reboot, notably in 2006 and 2016, have not coincidentally been among their rockiest, and even in those years they returned at least two proven starters. Second, the Badgers earned their reputation for resilience and consistency under Bo Ryan, and he’s not the coach any more. Greg Gard has certainly been up to snuff so far, but it’s more than fair to maintain a bit of skepticism about whether he can work the same magic that Bo did all those years.

That said, there are reasons for optimism as well. First, the Badgers return Ethan Happ, who is already among the more celebrated and decorated players in program history. Happ is a great two-way player that you can build a team around. Second, the incoming freshmen are highly touted and at least two of them (Brad Davison and Kobe King) appear ready to contribute at a high level from the opening tip. The flipside of the Badgers having unusual turnover is that there is an unusual opportunity for multiple freshmen to step in and earn playing time, and by all accounts it looks like that is going to happen. Third, Andy Van Vliet—a seven-foot shooting finesse player—appears to be out of the doghouse and ready to fill the void next to Happ in the frontcourt.

It remains to be seen how effectively he’ll really be, but it’s reasonable to expect that he can at least provide a level of production similar to guys like Vitto Brown and Duje Dukan have provided in the past.All told, it figures to be a very interesting year, likely on the bubble, for the Badgers as they fight to continue the Sacred Streaks in anticipation of what should be a monster year in 2018-19, when they’ll likely return the entire team.”

10. Overall Season Outlook

Over the course of the last two decades, few programs have displayed the consistency of Wisconsin basketball. The team has won at least 18 games and made the NCAA Tournament in every season since 1999. And the program’s recent run has been even more impressive, making four straight Sweet 16s.

But that could all be on the line this season.

After an impressive 2016-’17 season, Wisconsin is set to face arguably its biggest offseason departures in recent memory, including four starters and two all-time program greats. The players that are now departing accounted for 60.1 percent of the team’s minutes last season and came up huge in vital games. In particular, Hayes and Koenig’s performances in the NCAA Tournament will likely end up defining Wisconsin’s overall performance last year.

And the question will now be whether Hayes and Koenig will also define this season. Greg Gard and his staff need to figure out how to replace these departures and do it quickly. With challenging non-conference games in the first few weeks of the season, Wisconsin needs to hit the ground running. It won’t be an easy task, even with a star player like Happ returning in the frontcourt.

The good news is that there are some pieces to get the job done. As mentioned, Happ returns and the team also brings back two rising bench options from last season in Iverson and Trice. Both could be in line to take steps forward this season. Wisconsin also returns players like Illikainen, Pritzl, and Van Vliet who have some potential and adds a talented three-man recruiting class including two players that could compete for starting roles.

However, the departures are still substantial. Even if some of the returners improve and multiple newcomers hit the ground running, replacing four starters and players of Hayes and Koenig’s caliber won’t be easy. In fact, it’s probably too much to expect this year. Wisconsin has found a way to overachieve in the past, but this seems like the year when the regression finally occurs.

Wisconsin figures to be a solid team this season, but one with serious flaws. The Badgers should be in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid at season’s end, but the streak of fourth or better in Big Ten play should end.

Big Ten Prediction: 8th Place