Expectations are high for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team. Coming off a sweet-sixteen run and returning all significant pieces, the Badgers have a preseason ranking of #9 in the country. Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Ethan Happ all were selected to the preseason All-Big Ten team, and the roster goes way deeper than just that trio. The greatest strength for this team may be their depth, as 11 players at least will conceivably receive meaningful playing time. Depth can be both a blessing and a curse; it either can keep a team fresh and allow a team to have a variety of players with different skillsets, or it can block players from receiving the time needed to develop and become effective contributors. For the Badgers, the result is hopefully the first. Now, let’s take a look at the depth chart of the 2016-2017 squad.
Bronson Koenig, G, Senior
Koenig was expected to step into a role as the leader of the offense in 2015-2016, and for the most part he succeeded. After being a role player for his first two years, Koenig became the team’s option A in go-to situations. He averaged 13.1 points per game and shot 39% from three-point range, and was second on the team with 2.4 assists. Koenig supposedly put a lot of work into his game in the off season, and reports have said that he has looked great in practice all fall. After an impressive showing in the Red-White Scrimmage and the exhibition against UW-Platteville, look for Koenig to take a step forward this season and put himself in contention for First-Team Big Ten honors. Few in the conference can match Koenig’s combination of skill and experience.
Zak Showalter, G, Redshirt Senior
Zak Showalter is the Swiss-army knife of this team. When you need a clutch three, he sinks it. Need a big rebound? Showalter is there. How about lock-down defense? You already know who your man for the job is. While his per game averages may not be anything special, Showalter plays an integral role for the Badgers. He is an efficient shooter, as he shot 45% from the field and 35% from three in 2015-2016, to go along with an 80% clip from the free throw line. When Josh Gasser graduated in 2015, the Badgers looked for Showalter to step into his role, and he has done exactly that.
Nigel Hayes, F, Senior
After two highly productive and efficient years as a freshman and sophomore for the Badgers, Nigel was expected to take over the reins as the team’s top scoring threat in 2015 and compete for a First-Team All-America selection, with a lottery selection in the NBA draft likely. Hayes came up short on those lofty expectations, but still achieved a lot during his junior season. He led the team in points and assists, and finished second in rebounds. One area of concern was the significant drop in his shooting percentage, both from the field and from three. If Nigel returns to his 2014-2015 levels of shooting, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Vitto Brown, F, Senior
After a rough start to his 2015-2016 season, Vitto Brown became a weapon during the second half of the season. “Three’tto”, as many Badgers faithful call him, is an excellent shooter and fits perfectly as a complement to the power-trio of Hayes, Koenig, and Ethan Happ. Last year, Brown averaged 9.7 points per game and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 45% from the field and 40% from three-point land. Last year was a breakout year for him, as he saw his minutes per game jump from 6.3 to 25.4. Expect him to see even more this year. To show just how much Vitto improved over the course of last year, take a look at his statistics from the last 13 games of the season. He shot 54% from the field and 48% from three, while averaging 11.8 points per game. If Vitto carries this play over into this season, the rest of the Big Ten, and the nation for that matter, better watch out.
Ethan Happ, F, Sophomore
After redshirting in his first year on campus due to the Badgers depth on their 2014-2015 Final Four team, Happ played a large role for the Badgers last year while earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and All-Big Ten Third Team honors. Standing at 6’10” and 232 lbs., Happ is a post player that relies on his wide arsenal of savvy moves under the basket to score. Happ led the Badgers in rebounding at 7.9 per game, and surprised many by leading the Big Ten in steals at 1.8 per game, a skill that makes him an even more valuable forward. While Happ accumulated most of his points in the paint last year, he reportedly has worked immensely on his jump shot this off-season. If Happ improved his game in this regard, it could make him that much more versatile of a player, and that would mean big things for the Badgers.
First Off the Bench
Jordan Hill, G, Redshirt Junior
After receiving scarce playing time under Bo Ryan, Jordan Hill became the Badgers top bench player once Greg Gard took the reins. Averaging a hair over 16 minutes per game, Hill proved to be a useful and versatile piece. Hill plays both the point guard and shooting guard position. One interesting way in which he is utilized is by playing him at the point and Bronson Koenig at the shooting guard, which opens up more opportunities for Koenig to spot up and shoot. Hill will likely fulfill the same role as he did last year, and he is an important part of this year’s squad.
Khalil Iverson, G/F, Sophomore
Khalil is coming off of a freshman year in which he saw his fair share of successes and failures. While he proved to be an electric player with a penchant for thunderous dunks, he was held back by shortcomings on the offensive side of his game. He was a below average shooter, and thus his “slashing” style of play was not very effective, as opposing teams would play off of him on defense, giving him minimal chances to drive to the hoop. Most of his points came in the paint, which can be seen by the large difference in his field goal percentage to his three-point percentage (47% to 17%). If Khalil has improved this facet of his game, he could be poised for a breakout year as a potential sixth-man for the Badgers.
Providers of Depth
Past the first seven, playing time prospects for this team get a little hazy, as it is unsure at this point who Greg Gard will turn to. I expect at least two of these players to see meaningful minutes per game, as Gard’s rotation ran 9-deep last year, but who will he will use is thus far unclear.
Charles Thomas IV, F, Sophomore
Charles Thomas is a bruiser. Standing at 6’8”, 252 lbs., he is an excellent rebounder and defender, although he does sometimes get into foul trouble. While he struggled offensively last year, he still provides value to this team as a big man. His jump shot at times can be smooth, and if he can replicate that consistently, he could work his way into significant minutes off the bench.
Alex Illikainen, F, Sophomore
Illikainen can do a little bit of everything. He provides value at 6’9 as being a forward that can stretch the floor and shoot from deep. He has a very fundamentals-based playing style, a style that fits well with the Badgers offensive scheme centered around ball-movement. He will fight for time with Thomas and Andy Van Vliet, and whichever has the hot hand will see more floor-time.
Andy Van Vliet, F, Sophomore
A native of Belgium, Van Vliet was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for the 2015-2016 season. A true 7-footer, Van Vliet offers excellent size for the Badgers, and many have heralded him as Frank Kaminsky 2.0. While it is hard to not get excited about a 7-footer that can shoot (it’s a Wisconsin tradition, right?), it is important to not get over-hyped about Van Vliet. He still possesses a very raw skillset, and it will take some time for him to develop a feel for the offense. It will be exciting to see what he can do this year.
Brevin Pritzl, F, Redshirt Freshman
A 2015 Top-100 recruit according to many scouting agencies, Pritzl was forced to miss the 2015-2016 season due to injury. He is most known for being a deadly shooter from deep, and this is where he could likely provide an extra boost for the Badgers this year. He is likely the best three-point shooter on the bench. Playing time could be scarce with Iverson and Hill taking up many of the reserve-guard minutes, but I expect Gard to use Pritzl early on to see whether his three-point prowess translates in-game for this year’s team.
Unlikely to See Much Time, but Could Still Contribute
Aleem Ford, F, Freshman
A freshman from Georgia, Ford is a definite redshirt possibility. It is doubtful that he will see any meaningful minutes this year unless a forward is lost to injury. He has great athleticism and is definitely a player to watch in the future for the Badgers. Think Ryan Evans with a better shot.
D’Mitrik Trice, G, Freshman
Another potential redshirt candidate, D’Mitrik is the younger brother of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice. Due to the depth of this year’s roster, Trice is also doubtful to see any meaningful minutes this year. He stood out at the Red-White scrimmage, and could very well see himself earning a good number of minutes off the bench in 2017-2018.
TJ Schlundt, G, Redshirt Sophomore
Schlundt is a Wisconsin native, hailing from Oconomowoc, WI. He has great shooting ability, but does not have much to offer to this year’s team other than that. He is doubtful to contribute much this year other than in the second half of blowouts.
Ridin’ the Pine, Most Likely
The following players will most likely be an integral part of the “bench mob”. Look for them to be firing up the team and fans with their towel-waving and good spirits.
Michael Ballard, G, Freshman
Matt Ferris, G, Redshirt Sophomore
Aaron Moesch, G, Redshirt Junior
See below for an estimated depth chart for the Badgers. Due to the rotation of playing many different mixes of positions and players, this is a very rough guess at the depth chart, but it provides some clarity nonetheless.
|B. Koenig||Z. Showalter||N. Hayes||V. Brown||E. Happ|
|J. Hill||J. Hill||K. Iverson||C. Thomas/A. Illikainen||C. Thomas|
|D. Trice||K. Iverson||A. Illikainen||A. Van Vliet||A. Van Vliet|
|M. Ballard||B. Pritzl||A. Ford||A. Ford|
|T. Schlundt||A. Moesch|