#15 Wisconsin Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

Wisconsin Badgers

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #15
Conference Rank: #4 Big Ten

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Last season was about as good as it can get. Wisconsin won the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten Tournament and reached the national championship game. Their four losses came against Duke twice, and on the road at Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. The Badgers trip through the NCAA Tournament was epic as they knocked off previously unbeaten and largely thought to be unbeatable, Kentucky. Gone are three starters from that team, but if there is one thing we have learned over the years it is that Wisconsin does not need star power to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

2014-15 Record: 37-4, 16-2
2014-15 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Bo Ryan
Coach Record: 357-125 at Wisconsin, 740-228 overall

Who’s Out:
The star power came last year with Frank Kaminsky. The seven-footer did it all for the Badgers, averaging 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks. He was so difficult to defend because he could step outside and knock down three-pointers with ease. He connected on 41.6 percent of his 101 three-point attempts. It is hard to stop a seven-footer who can shoot like that. And that is why Kaminsky was named national Player of the Year by many outlets. Losing Sam Dekker, the team’s second leading scorer, leaves even more questions for the Badgers. Dekker left early for the NBA after averaging 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds. Dekker was Kaminsky’s frontcourt mate and he too was a dangerous outside shooter. The frontcourt also lost longtime reserve Duje Dukan, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 rebounds during his senior season. The departures in the backcourt are not quite as significant as those in the frontcourt. Josh Gasser was an underappreciated piece of this team though. He averaged just 6.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, but Gasser was one of the best glue guys in the country. Traevon Jackson was the point guard until a mid-January injury ended his season. UW is used to playing without Jackson at least.

Who’s In:
This is Wisconsin so they are not going to pick up a ton of top recruits; they are going to get players who fit in the system and develop them. Coach Bo Ryan does need some immediate frontcourt help from this group though and he should get it with redshirt freshman Ethan Happ. The versatile 6-9, 235 pound forward redshirted because of all of the talent in front of him, but he is the next in line to be the leader of the UW frontcourt. Whether that turns into production immediately or not remains to be seen, but expect Happ to at least start showing flashes of his potential. Alex Illikainen, Charlie Thomas and Andy Van Vliet may be asked to do a little more than usual as freshmen. At least one of them will need to provide some frontcourt depth. The newcomers in the backcourt are former manager Will Decorah, walk-on T.J. Schlundt, Khalil Iverson and Brevin Pritzl. Iverson is a great athlete and after some time learning under Coach Ryan, he will be a great player. Pritzl has the better opportunity of contributing right away. He is a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor and could provide a nice offensive spark off of the bench.

Who to Watch:
The two experienced players back are Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Hayes worked on his outside shooting before last season and turned into a typical Wisconsin forward that can stretch the defense. After not even attempting a three-pointer as a freshman, Hayes connected on 40 of his 101 attempts as a sophomore. On the year he averaged 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. Ideally, Hayes is a small forward, but at 6-8 and 240 pounds, he can certainly play the four spot as well. That will depend on the development of the rest of the team. Koenig stepped in for Jackson after his injury and the Badgers did not miss a beat. Koenig, a 6-4 junior, averaged 8.7 points and 2.5 assists on the year and was certainly more productive in the second half of the season when he was forced into more action. But the fun of Wisconsin is finding the guys down the bench who have been biding their time and paying their dues. Vitto Brown has all the signs that this will be his breakout year. He is a junior, which is when Wisconsin big men typically have their breakout years and Coach Ryan needs him to be productive. As a sophomore last season he averaged just 6.3 minutes per game, but that does not mean he cannot be a double digit scorer this year. Zak Showalter, another junior, could take the starting shooting guard spot over for Gasser. He played well during the NCAA Tournament, but averaged just 7.6 minutes per game. Jordan Hill is also back after redshirting last season. The speedy point guard should emerge as Koenig’s primary backup at the point, but he can also play off of the ball. Either way, his defense should earn him some quality minutes.

Final Projection:
Wisconsin seems to always have players ready to step up after a year or two of not doing much of anything. If Brown and Showalter and some of the freshmen, most notably Happ, are ready to take a step up, this will be a tough Wisconsin team to beat. Koenig and Hayes are legitimate All-Big Ten caliber players and certainly there will be more fighting for those honors by seasons end. This may not be a Final Four team, but it is a team that will surprise quite a few people.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Bronson Koenig, Junior, Guard, 8.7 points per game
Zak Showalter, Junior, Guard, 2.1 points per game
Nigel Hayes, Junior, Forward, 12.4 points per game
Vitto Brown, Junior, Forward, 1.8 points per game
Ethan Happ, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 72.5 (51st in nation, 4th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 58.2 (12, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 47.9 (20, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.8 (171, 10)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.2 (86, 7)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.5 (79, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 76.3 (11, 2)
Rebound Margin: 5.8 (23, 1)
Assists Per Game: 12.6 (168, 8)
Turnovers Per Game: 7.4 (1, 1)

Madness 2016 NBA Draft Rankings:
#15 Nigel Hayes

Madness 2015 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#76 Brevin Pritzl
#162 Alex Illikainen


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