B1G Basketball Preview: Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Badgers are coming off a season that saw them achieve their first ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but then fell to Duke in the national championship game, 68-63.
The Badgers currently sit No. 17 in the preseason AP Top 25. Bo Ryan is still at the helm of the program, as he gets ready to coach his 15th year in Wisconsin. After some big losses in the offseason, the Badgers are going to have to look for a lot of different playmakers this year if they hope to see the same success as last year.
Key Returning Players
After playing in the shadow of Frank Kaminsky last season, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are going to be the keys to a successful season for Wisconsin this year.
After being named third team All-Big Ten at the end of the 2015 season, Hayes was named a 2015-2016 preseason All-American by Sporting News. Considered the Big Ten’s most efficient player last season, Hayes made close to 40 percent of his 3-pointers.
Koenig averaged 28.8 minutes a game last year, appearing in all 40 of Wisconsin’s games, and stepping in as the starting point guard when senior Traevon Jackson went down with an injury.
Wisconsin lost four starters in the offseason, including National and Big Ten Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky plus junior Sam Dekker to the NBA Draft. Kaminsky was drafted as the ninth overall pick to the Charlotte Hornets, and Dekker landed in Houston as the 18th overall pick.
The Badgers also lost senior Traevon Jackson, a two-year starter before he missed much of his senior season to an injury, and redshirt seniors Duje Dukan and Josh Gasser, a four-year starter. Wisconsin now has to replace five of the seven players who played in the national championship game, which may be a daunting task for Bo Ryan and Co.
Kaminksy and Dekker were Wisconsin’s leading scorers, with 18.8 and 13.9 points per game, respectively. The duo combined for 45 percent of Wisconsin’s scoring last year, so the Badgers are going to have to find other options for offense. Hayes came in third on that list, averaging 12.4 points a game, but after him, Koenig is next on the list at 8.7.
Kaminsky also led the Badgers in blocks with 57, steals with 33, and rebounds with 320. The next closest for returning players in all those categories is Nigel Hayes, although his numbers were significantly less. The loss of Kaminsky is going to be a tough one for the Badgers to overcome.
The Wisconsin non-conference schedule is off to an easy start with four winnable games before its first challenge of the season, coming against Georgetown in the 2K Classic in New York. The highlight of the non-conference schedule could very well come at that same tournament if the pieces fall into place; No. 5 Duke will also be at the 2K classic, so the Badgers will either be facing them or VCU.
Wisconsin faces No. 8 Oklahoma at the end of November, which, apart from the potential of Duke, will be its first real test of the season. Following their game against the Sooners, the final two big matchups in non-conference come in the form of Syracuse and Temple.
The only losses I envision Wisconsin having in non-conference play would be possibly Georgetown, and then Duke, should they end up facing the Blue Devils. The non-conference schedule will be a decent test as to how the rest of the season is going to go for this young Badgers team.
The Badgers will face a strong Big Ten conference this year, with four out of their first six conference games coming against ranked opponents. They open the conference away at No. 23 Purdue, before also facing No. 15 Indiana, No. 3 Maryland and No. 13 Michigan State.
Michigan is the only other Big Ten team currently ranked (No. 25), but the Badgers won’t face them until February 28th when they travel to Ann Arbor.
I see the Badgers handily beating Rutgers, Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa. Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue may be a test for them, but they should come out with the win. The biggest struggles this team will have will be against its higher ranked opponents. Wisconsin should most likely finish with five losses in conference play, but if they can’t find a good rhythm in non-conference play that may be more.
Coach’s Hot Seat
Despite dismissing retirement rumors at the end of last season, 67-year-old Bo Ryan is no doubt nearing the end of his tenure as Wisconsin’s head coach. I’ll give him a one on the hot seat thanks to Wisconsin’s continued success under him. The Badgers have made it to the NCAA tournament every year that he’s been there, including back-to-back trips to the Final Four the last two years. Barring anything extreme, when Bo Ryan leaves Wisconsin, it’ll be on his own terms.
After making it to the national championship last year, Wisconsin failed to be ranked in the top 10 in the preseason poll. Wisconsin’s only senior is redshirt senior Jordan Smith, a former walk-on who was just recently placed on scholarship. Smith has never scored a point for the Badgers and only played 35 minutes last season. With the lack of seniority for Wisconsin, this is more than likely going to be a rebuilding year up in Madison.
As far as leadership goes, the team is going to have to look to Hayes and Koenig. While Hayes and Koenig will likely be leading the Badgers this season, expect some of the new members of the program to contribute as well. Ryan has five new faces this season, with freshman Brevin Pritzl probably competing with redshirt junior Zak Showalter for a starting position.
Wisconsin has never finished outside the top four in the Big Ten under Bo Ryan, and I don’t expect this year to be any different. This Wisconsin team is going to have to work hard and be diligent, but they have what it takes to have another successful season. They finished last year 36-4, but with the Big Ten being as strong as ever, they’re going to have to compete against some tough teams. With the huge loss of Kaminsky, who was essentially a good chunk of the team, I see the Badgers going 26-6 this season.
Anna Pitingolo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com