The Badgers may have lost their streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, but the future is bright. They return a roster that finished last year strongly beating Purdue and playing Michigan State close twice. They will return 94.6% of last season’s minutes, losing only a trio of walk-ons. (Moesch and Schlundt both got one year scholarships for their last seasons) While moral victories do not result in NCAA tournament berths, they do allow for some optimism going forward. In reality Coach Gard will likely be coaching for his job, a program that has been as perennially successful as Wisconsin has over the last two decades, will not tolerate being down for multiple years. Success might be quantified simply as a NCAA berth, and based on some early offseason polls they will start the season on the fringes of the polls. At the end of the day Badger fans expect the things we’ve grown accustomed to, top four finishes in the Big Ten, NCAA tournament berths, and 20 win seasons (Which the Badgers had 11 straight prior to this season).
Barring some dramatic change, they will most likely return their star Center Ethan Happ. The depth will be improved, but Happ is the key. Happ had another dominant season last year averaging 17.9 points, 8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks. He has already become the seventh leading scorer in Wisconsin and sits 676 points from Alando Tucker for the number one spot. He was one of five players to post the 17/8/3 slash line in Division 1, and the only one to do it in a high major conference. Simply put, he is a stud. He positively impacts the game on both ends and will be the engine that drives the Badger’s success.
A key difference in the next season for the Badgers will be guard depth, this season for the last 23 games they had two scholarship guards on the roster. Next season they will have five as well as walk-on Trevor Anderson who has had a solid freshman season at UW-GB before electing to walk on in Madison. The Badgers offense is dependent on guard play, they needed shooters around Happ, but had no one off the bench leading to a reliance on Pritzl and Davison. Davison will have a full offseason to work with the coaches, get healthy and work on his game. Based on everything we know about Brad Davison’s work ethic and soul, it would be silly to consider him even close to his ceiling. Pritzl has gotten better every year, and really had a breakout season last year as he found his confidence. Kobe King was Mr. Wisconsin basketball his senior year (averaging 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists a game) and it seemed like he was just starting to get into a rhythm before he went down with an injury. D’mitrik Trice had a promising freshman year with the Badgers and was on pace to lead the team in minutes before going down with injury. The Badgers will also welcome in Tai Strickland into the backcourt, a 3 star recruit out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who is the son of NBA veteran Rod Strickland. Strickland will give them a solid athlete with a polished all around game, who profiles as a good two way player and day one contributor.
While none of those players might be All-Americans next season they will help a ton. This Badger’s offense depends on solid guard play, namely to draw people out of the paint and open up the court for Ethan Happ. In general the Badgers will benefit from having more ball handlers guys like Aleem Ford and Kahlil Iverson are good players, but primarily off ball guys. Aleem in particular could be poised for a break out year, he would benefit greatly from a year where Wisconsin has several good shooters and just better spacing in general. Khalil Iverson will be an X-factor for this team, his shooting last year was abysmal, but his form looked good. His athleticism is huge for this team and his defense is unmatched on this squad. That said if he cannot shoot and only scores on dunks, his minutes might get stolen by some of the less offensively challenged players.
That is the big difference between this year’s squad and next year’s squad, depth. We will have a solid guard rotation, which will enable us to go small more often and play less bigs. While we should expect some internal improvement, this team does not need a ton of internal improvement to have a successful season. The increased depth and current talent level should be enough to make the tournament, any internal improvement should affect expectations in the tournament. Hopefully the next tournament streak starts with next year’s squad.