Wisconsin enters the year knowing that a rebuild awaits, but with the optimism that comes from having a lot of talented new faces. If you’re playing the percentages, UW should be expected to fall off considerably, even from last year’s disappointing season.
However, if you believe the fundamentals of the UW program are sound (very much an open question), then a little bit of regression to the mean could lead to the Badgers being a surprise team in the B1G this year. All of that notwithstanding, it seems like a solid bet that UW will finish somewhere in the 6th-11th range in conference play.
I. 2020-21 Season Recap
It mostly sucked.
Expectations were high coming off of a B1G title with virtually everybody back. But it just didn’t play out that way. It never really felt like UW was the well-oiled machine fans had hoped for, but there was a road win at MSU on Christmas day (first in East Lansing since 2004), and with a mid-January win over Northwestern, UW stood at 12-3/6-2.
The Badgers went 6-10 the rest of the way, finishing 18-13/10-10.
Those ten losses were mostly (Iowa 3x, Illinois 2x, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Baylor) respectable (@PSU not so much), but it still wasn’t what the season was supposed to be.
That said, getting to be the team that sent Roy Williams into retirement was damn fun. And we all know March Madness can be quite random. UW gave Baylor a decent game in the second round. If the committee had slotted in UW as a 10-seed in Rutgers’ spot, they could have made some noise. Alas, stomping UNC remains the highlight.
After the season ended, controversy ensued when a recording of most of the seniors rather emotionally laying out their complaints to Coach Greg Gard, about Coach Greg Gard hit the press. The FIRE GARD! crowd had a field day. Pearls were clutched as to the recruiting fallout. It wasn’t fun for a week or so.
But then it mostly subsided. You may not know that multiple members of that senior class have said nice things about Gard subsequently and/or been photographed with him recently looking genuinely happy. There seems to be only one exception. [And it is NOT Brad Davison, but enjoy another photo of him.]
II. The Players
Fans are rationalizing the struggles ahead the way fans of a very young roster typically do. LOOK AT ALL THE NEW PLAYERS! AREN’T THEY SHINY!! AND THEY HAVEN’T COMMITTED ANY TURNOVERS YET!!! IT’S SO EXCITING TO UNWRAP PRESENTS!!!!
PG D’Mitrik Trice, PF/C Micah Potter, PF/C Nate Reuvers, PF Aleem Ford, PG/SG Trevor Anderson, volunteer assistant coach Alando Tucker.
First-year players: PG Chucky Hepburn, PF Matthew Mors, PF Chris Hodges, SF Markus Ilver. Also, PG Lorne Bowman, a ’20 recruit who was not with the program last year, owing to a family situation, is now in Madison.
Transfers: C Chris Vogt (grad transfer), SG Jahcobi Neath (SOPH)
Finally: not having volunteer assistant coach Alando Tucker.
SG Brad Davison (super SR), PF Tyler Wahl (JR), SG/SF Jonathan Davis (FR), C Steve Crowl (FR), PF Ben Carlson (FR), SG/SF Jordan Davis (FR), SF Carter Gilmore (FR).
Ten freshmen (some Covid frosh obviously) and two transfers among the 14 scholarship players.
Yep. The team is going to be young
Projected Depth Chart
Starting lineup will probably be:
Expect Vogt to get plenty of time on the court and a hopefully health Carlson to fill out the PF/C rotation. Gard will let Davison run the point on occasion, so Neath should get plenty of time at the 2. Most of the frosh will redshirt, but they’re high on Hepburn, a well-rounded recruit out of Omaha. You never know, but, yeah, I really think he’s going to have a great career in Madison. Thus, Jordan Davis and Carter Gilmore seem primed for the 9 and 10 spots in the rotation. Bowman and Mors probably have the best chance of the non-Hepburn frosh to get time this year, but a lot is up in the air.
If you like reading tea leaves, here’s the boxscore from their totally meaningful scrimmage against UW-Whitewater. [Hepburn can fill the stat sheet. He’s going to be good.]
III. Expectations in 2021-22
Not super high. If the pieces fit together by January, maybe they could surprise and sneak past whoever in the top six of the conference has a disappointing season. But even if that happens, we’re not talking “surprise” on the level of last year’s Michigan. Or even last year’s OSU.
UW’s ceiling is probably a 6-7 seed in the NCAA tournament and hoping for the right second round matchup. The floor is something like the 15-18/7-11 performance in 2017-2018. But that team had Ethan Happ, so the bottom this year could conceivably be lower. If you force me to be more specific, I’d say the 9-11 is the likeliest conference record and maybe the “next four out” on Selection Sunday.
(Kenpom rankings in parentheses.)
Pretty solid schedule for a super young team. Providence at home in the Gavitt Games and @ Georgia Tech in the B1G/ACC matchup. Wisconsin is playing in the (not Maui-) Invitational this year, opening with Texas A&M, then Butler or Houston. Marquette comes to Madison this year. Any loss other than in those games would be quite bad as the other five opponents are all ranked 200 or below in KenPom.
Again, it’s a smart schedule. Good chance for some wins that could help a bubble profile with pretty good protection against any mortally wounding losses.
Double Plays: Indiana (31), Michigan State (22), Minnesota (120), Nebraska (81), Ohio State (8), Purdue (6), Rutgers (67)
Single Plays (home): Iowa (23), Michigan (2), Penn State (70)
Single Plays (away): Illinois (5), Maryland (18), Northwestern (48),
You can always find something to whine about, but this seems pretty fair. Road games in Lincoln and Evanston could really prove to be important. The road to a .500 or better conference record will require some wins away from the Kohl Center.
How does Wisconsin finish in the Big Ten?
This poll is closed
Top 4 again—somehow
Above .500, a bye on the first day of the BTT
Below .500, but still avoiding Wednesday games
The bottom falls out—say hello to Wednesday basketball