clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Big Ten Basketball Previews: Wisconsin

Back to ye old days of Badgerdom

Yes, it really happened

2022 In Review

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Wisconsin far exceeded preseason expectations and grabbed a share of the B1G title. That’s about the only similarity between the 2020 and 2022 squads, though. The ‘20 team, while only #22 in KemPom, was on fire at the end of the year, finishing on an eight-game winning streak after after sitting at 13-10/6-6 in early Feb. Once the light went on with that team, it featured an efficient, balanced offense (though at a very slow pace) and typically sound Badger defense.

Last year was basically the opposite. Wisconsin was #215 nationally in tempo, but, in conference play, only four B1G teams played faster. The Badgers were last in three point %, and the offense was heavily dependent on Johnny Davis. Defensively, they ranked 3rd in the conference, mostly because of they were second-best in the league in 3 pt. FG% allowed, and didn’t give up many offensive boards.

Finally, while 2020 saw UW flounder until February before catching fire, last year Wisconsin was basically great—and fortunate in close games—until taking on water late in the season. A home loss to Nebraska on the last day of the season deprived UW of the outright B1G title and the Badgers then dropped their opening B1G tournament game, had to rally past Colgate in a 3/14 matchup, and were upended by 11-seed Iowa State. The 1-3 finish took a little luster off a great year, but the banner will hang forever. And we’ll always have this:


PG Chucky Hepburn, 6’2’’ Sophomore: One of eleven players tabbed for the preseason all-B1G team at media days, Hepburn has basically been given the keys to the team. Last year, he struggled offensively at times, but found his outside stroke as the season progressed. He takes very good care of the ball and is an excellent defender. There’s a lot of Jordan Taylor to his game and you all are going to hate that he’s going to be a Badger for the next three years. He might not quite double last season’s scoring average (7.9), but he’ll come close, and his efficiency numbers should go up.

SG Max Klesmit, 6’3’’ Junior: Klesmit is a Wisconsin native who transferred in from Wofford. His advanced numbers are great in most shooting stats, though he took a step back in 3 pt % last year. Maybe he finds his stroke this year or maybe the step up in level of competition dampens some of those numbers. Either way, he’s been the assumed starter at SG since the day he transferred, and that still seems to be the case. He appears to be a very active defender (good steal numbers) and it an excellent FT shooter (84% career). If Wisconsin vastly exceeds expectations again this year, it will probably be because Klesmit and Hepburn team up to be a guard tandem that is hellish on opponents defensively and makes their FTs down the stretch.

SF Jordan Davis, 6’4’’ Junior: He’s not going to be his brother, and he doesn’t need to be. He’s a really good athlete and should be able to give the Badgers steady to very good defense for 20-25 minutes a game. If he can toss in some opportunistic offense, he’ll have done his job. Given the makeup of the roster, expect some rather high variance to his contributions. He may have games where he makes contributions in most every category and there might be games where he gets fewer than 10 minutes. Wisconsin has a lot of potential pieces this year, and the rotation won’t be set for a while. That said, he’s the starter until somebody beats him out for the job.

MaximumSam: For Wisconsin to be any good this season, they need to clone Johnny Davis. Wait...goddammit.

PF Tyler Wahl, 6’9’’ Senior: Like Hepburn, Wahl was picked to the 11-man preseason all-B1G team. He’s pretty much the prototypical Badger big. He’s got old man post moves that drive opponents crazy, does a good job drawing fouls, and plays smart defense. He works his ass off improving his game (FT% by year: Fr: 38.9%; Soph: 56.7%; Jr.: 70.0%), and is the Badger mostly likely to make a high-energy play that stems an opponent run and/or starts a Badger run. He is NOT a good 3 point shooter, but don’t overlook the possibility that talk of him improving his stroke over the offseason is for real. This will be his fourth year in uniform. While he still has his Covid year, I think there’s a good chance this is his last season for UW.

C Steven Crowl, 7’0’’ Junior: Crowl might the be the most pivotal player on the roster this year, both because he’s the logical choice as UW’s third scorer (though don’t sleep on Klesmit) and because the Badgers aren’t real deep inside. Crowl will be counted on to provide interior defense without getting into foul trouble. He only fouled out once last year, but had seven more games where he picked up four fouls, and that’s with Greg Gard having a pretty quick hook, given Christ Vogt’s presence as a backup in ‘21-’22. Crowl has a solid 3pt stroke (33% in conference play) that may have room for improvement given that he shot 80% from the line. He’s not going to become a terror in the post, and the Edeys and Dickinsons of the B1G will still overpower him on occasion, but he should be able to average near double-figures. His ability to pull his defender out of the lane will be an important piece if UW is to improve their offensive numbers.


CG Jahcobi Neath, 6’4’’ Senior: Neath transferred in from Wake Forest ahead of last year after battling injuries in the ‘20-’21 season. Unfortunately he battled injuries last year, too, and was pretty inefficient when on the court. He’ll get every opportunity to be a key part of the rotation. If he puts it all together, he could be a poor man’s Brevin Pritzl (UW’s outstanding sixth man in 2020), but it’s likelier that he provides 10-15 minutes of up-and-down play, perhaps even falling out of the rotation if Connor Essegian blossoms (see below)

PG Kamari McGee, 6’0’’ Sophomore: McGee was the best player on an awful Green Bay team last year, and the numbers—high usage, questionable shooting %s—show it. That said, he knows he’s backing up Hepburn and transferred anyway. His steal numbers are better than those of Hepburn or Klesmit, and, like the latter, he’s an 80%-plus FT shooter. There will be an adjustment in terms of competition level, but there’s reason for optimism that he will be a good addition to the guard rotation.

SF Carter Gilmore, 6’7’’ Junior: Gilmore is a former walk-on who was put on scholarship last year. He was consistently giving UW 5-10 minutes before falling out of the rotation once February hit. With a couple of years in the system, and some physical development, Gilmore should get first crack at backing up Jordan Davis. His ceiling might be “pesky defender who can hit an open jumper” but, well, that would be enough.

PF Markus Ilver, 6’8’’ Sophomore: An intriguing Estonian who fits the Euro stereotype in that his offensive game is well ahead of his defense. Ilver hit double-digits twice during Wisconsin’s 4-0 trip through France in August, but went scoreless in the recent intrasquad scrimmage. Hard to know what to expect this year, but he’ll get his chances, especially if he commits defensively.

PF Chris Hodges, 6’8’’ Freshman: Hodges might be the biggest question mark on the team. A top 200 recruit in the class of ‘21, Hodges sat out his senior season in HS (Covid) and redshirted last year, so hasn’t played much competitive ball lately. Additionally, given UW’s lack of depth in the post, he will likely be playing out of position when he’s on the court this year. However, he’s 6’8”, 245, and can defend. You all know that Wisconsin puts a premium on defense, so don’t be surprised to see Hodges become an important rotation piece, quite possibly jumping Ilver in the pecking order.

SG Connor Essegian, 6’4’’ Freshman: Essegian finished his HS career as the #10 all-time scorer in Indiana HS history, but, in-state, only Butler showed any interest as he played for a small school north of Forth Wayne. So, either Wisconsin got a diamond in the rough, or they erroneously thought they saw something Indiana and Purdue didn’t. If you’re betting on the latter, you’re going to point to Essegian hitting double digits in three of the four games during the France trip, and leading his team in scoring during the intrasquad scrimmage. If you’re betting the former, it’s probably because Coach Gard has already essentially stated that Essegian will play as much as his defense allows. Hard to know right now, but nobody questions his shooting stroke, and with plenty of defensive talent on hand, Essegian could get quality minutes if UW goes with a three guard lineup at times.

SG Isaac Lindsey, 6’4”, Sophomore: Lindsey was hurt and missed the scrimmage, and injuries limited him during his senior year in HS (‘19-’20) and in his lone season at UNLV (‘20-’21). He’s a walk-on at UW and played fewer than 15 minutes total last year, so don’t expect to hear his name much this season. However, he was recruited to UNLV by then-coach T.J. Otzelberger, and Gard was complimentary of his all-around game after the France trip. So, IF Essegian’s defense isn’t there year, and IF Neath just doesn’t round into form, and IF Lindsey gets healthy, he could be the choice as backup SG. Unlikely, but file away.


Kind of...:Despite being the only school to put two players on the preseason all-B1G team, Wisconsin was picked 9th in the unofficial media poll, and I haven’t see them any higher than 8th too many other places. On the one hand, I get it. Losing the B1G MVP from last year, and one of the most experienced players in school history (Brad Davison) means there’s plenty of production to be replaced. All the same, given the acclaim thrown the way of Hepburn and Wahl, most people’s suspicion of the Badgers’ chances seems to be over the lack of depth. Maybe Wisconsin just simply is deficient in talent, but there are plenty of intriguing possibilities, and, given UW’s deliberate pace, an eight-man rotation should be sufficient.

I expect Crowl to show real improvement, Klesmit to be fine at the 2, and Davis to be solid at the 3. That means you need bench contributions from 3 players. Among McGee, Essegian, Gilmore, and Hodges, I think they’ll get enough. I’m not predicting a conference title, but, by the end of the year plenty of people will be wondering why they picked the Badgers so low. Again.

Wisconsin the year after losing NBA draft pick(s)

Draft Year Player(s) Drafted Round B1G Finish NCAA Performance
Draft Year Player(s) Drafted Round B1G Finish NCAA Performance
2004 Devin Harris 1 11-5, 3rd place Elite Eight
2007 Alando Tucker 1 16-2, outright champs Sweet 16
2011 Jon Leuer 2 12-6, 4th place Sweet 16
2015 Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker 1 12-6, 3rd place tie Sweet 16
2022 Johnny Davis 1 ??? ???

stewmonkey13: There is not a single redeeming quality about wisconsin “basketball.” They represent all that is wrong with the sport and should be disbanded immediately

WhiteSpeedReceiver: Stew is being far more polite than wisconsin “basketball” deserves.

MaximumSam: This should be a more normal Wisconsin team, with lurchy white guys shooting threes at the end of the shot clock. Losing Davison and Davis is an issue - those guys were really effective last season. Still, Wisconsin returns a veteran group with a proven identity - that will go a long way in a conference with so much turnover.

Other Takes

Daily Hoosier: Gard’s 2020 and 2022 Big Ten titles followed very different blueprints, with the former team posing a balanced attack that played through its big men, and the latter centered around star-power on the perimeter. Gard might just be the best coach in the Big Ten when it comes to keying in on the strengths of his roster and designing a gameplan around them. This team can look a lot like the 2020 squad, when Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers wreaked havoc with size and physicality. But to get there Gard needs a lot of players to take big strides. There are major questions out on the wing, but if nothing else you should have learned by now to never doubt Wisconsin.

Inside the Hall: Wisconsin went 4-0 in an August trip to France, which gave the Badgers a head start for the 2022-23 season. While the returning trio of Hepburn, Wahl and Crowl is proven, Gard has a lot of holes to fill on the roster. Davis did as much for his team as any player in the Big Ten and Davison was one of the league’s most experienced players. It’s tough to see Wisconsin duplicating last season’s success, but it would also be foolish to bet against the Badgers competing for an NCAA tournament berth once again.