#9 Wisconsin Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Wisconsin Badgers
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #9
Conference Rank: #2 Big Ten
A young Wisconsin team got off to a very slow start to the 2015-2016 season. They lost to teams like Western Illinois and Milwaukee. Once Big Ten play rolled around, the Badgers were playing much better. There was some inconsistent play, at least in January, but going 12-6 in the Big Ten is a solid season. The Badgers were able to grind out two wins in the NCAA Tournament too, including an upset over second seeded Xavier. With everybody back, the expectations are very high in Madison. Nigel Hayes should again be the team’s leader. He averaged a team high 15.7 points and added 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. The 6-8 senior did struggle with his shot though, connecting on just 29.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and 36.8 percent from the floor.
2015-16 Record: 22-13, 12-6
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Greg Gard
Coach Record: 15-8 at Wisconsin, 15-8 overall
Who’s Out:
Coach Greg Gard, who took over for the retired Bo Ryan in mid-December on an interim basis, returns every single player from last year’s roster. Coach Gard had the interim tag removed after the conclusion of the regular season.
Who’s In:
Even though nobody is gone, Wisconsin has five players who could suit up for the first time this year. Andy Van Vliet sat out last season due to eligibility issues. The 7-0 Belgian has a nice shooting touch for a player his size. Incoming freshman Aleem Ford could add even more options to the frontcourt, but minutes will be very tough for him to come by. Michael Ballard, Brevin Pritzl and D’Mitrik Trice are the newcomers on the perimeter. Trice has a chance to make an immediate impact as the backup point guard.
Who to Watch:
Despite the mid-season coaching change, only once did either Coach Ryan or Coach Gard stray from the same starting lineup. That streak should continue this year with Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ joining Hayes in the starting five. Koenig is best remembered for his clutch game winning three-pointer against Xavier to send the Badgers to the Sweet 16. But he hit a lot of other big three-pointers during the season as well. On the year he connected on 39.0 percent of his 213 three-point attempts and was second on the team with 13.1 points per game. He also runs the point effectively and efficiently. Showalter is a very good perimeter defender and always brings good energy to the floor. Like Hayes, Brown is a big guy who can shoot the basketball. Brown averaged 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds and is poised for a big senior season. Happ is the more traditional big man and the only player on the roster who is not a threat to shoot a three-pointer. But he is very efficient scoring in the paint and averaged 12.4 points per game. Happ also led the team with 7.9 rebounds per contest and 63 steals and 32 blocks. 
Final Projection:
Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, Charles Thomas and Alex Illikainen provided most of the depth last season. This time around they will be pushed by the newcomers. No matter who ends up stepping into bigger roles off the bench, Coach Gard has a lot of very good options. And that is something that was a bit of a problem last year. It was a rare occasion when Hayes or Koenig were out of the game. The hope is Wisconsin can let their stars get a little more rest without too much of a drop in production. That will keep the Badgers fresh down the stretch when they are looking to win a Big Ten title and make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Bronson Koenig, Senior, Guard, 13.1 points per game
Zak Showalter, Senior, Guard, 7.5 points per game
Vitto Brown, Senior, Forward, 9.7 points per game
Nigel Hayes, Senior, Forward, 15.7 points per game
Ethan Happ, Sophomore, Forward, 12.4 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 67.8 (282nd in nation, 12th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 63.8 (17, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 42.6 (244, 11)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.6 (122, 8)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.5 (217, 10)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 34.9 (155, 9)
Free-Throw Percentage: 70.3 (150, 10)
Rebound Margin: 3.1 (74, 4)
Assists Per Game: 11.4 (296, 12)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.0 (37, 5)
Madness 2017 NBA Draft Rankings:
#45 Nigel Hayes