NCAA Basketball is Back!

When we last had NCAA basketball, it was giving us the shiniest of shining moments courtesy of Kris Jenkins and Villanova (sorry Dave Mauro).  I’m admittedly waaaayy more of a NCAA basketball than NBA fan.  I’m from Madison, Wisconsin a great college town.  The Wisconsin Badgers were just turning the program around so they were fun to watch.  Wisconsin under Dick Bennett meant no turnovers, using all the shot clock, suffocating defense, solid rebounding, and everything else that will never make a highlight reel.   Pretty sure Bennett would have found some fault with Lebron’s chasedown block in Game 7.  Bo Ryan continued that style with slightly less solid defense and a lot more offensive creativity.  Ham-and-Cheese on wheat bread versus white bread I suppose is a way to explain the difference.

In college your super teams are usually 1-and-done and reconstituted every season.This year, the chalk suggest Duke is the clear favorite.  As a decent enough person and a Wisconsin fan, the less said about Duke the better (right Dave Mauro?).

The Wisconsin Badgers are ranked #9 and #10 in the preseason polls because the Badgers return every significant player from the 2015-16 season.  Seriously, this team lost nothing from last season and fumbled away an Elite 8 appearance in the dying moments.  In 2015-16, the Badgers finished in a logjam for 3rd because they somehow never fail to finish Top 4 in the conference.  KenPom has the Badgers at #8.

As my brother has noted, most guys at Wisconsin make 1 big leap sometime in their first couple years in Madison.  Kaminsky goes from benchwarmer to POY is probably an outlier.  But most other guys spend freshman year learning the finer points of defense and lifting weights.  Over the summer they learn to shoot.  We’ve seen this pattern over and over again.  The only flaw is that there isn’t like a second jump from solid contributor to superstar.

To take a recent example, everyone’s favorite Wisconsin personality and social activist, Nigel Hayes.  Look at his stat line:

Freshman year he operates almost exclusively in the paint utilizing that quick spin that probably should always be called an offensive foul.  His minutes nearly double as a sophomore so all his numbers improve.  The most interesting stat to me is that freshman year he attempts no 3-pointers.  Then sophomore year he takes 101 and makes a respectable 40 (39.6%).  His free throw shooting also improved from 58.5% to 74.4%.  Obviously he pressed last season trying to replace Dekker and Kaminsky and his numbers fell.  He also didn’t end our season on the best note.

This season, I think it’s reasonable to expect that Ethan Happ will have learned to shoot and thus continue to expand his offensive repertoire making him an even tougher matchup.  Look at his shot chart from last season:

72 shots in the lane/paint.  2 from the FT line. 0 from 3-point-range.  Happ being able to shoot a little would mean Wisconsin would again feature a starting 5 that can score from anywhere which forces your opponent to guard more space thus opening more creases for dribble peneration and kickouts.

I’m expecting bigger roles and bigger contributions from Charlie Thomas, Khalil Iverson, Alex Illikainen, the freshman who got some minutes last season.  In addition, we’ll get our first look at Beligan import Andy Van Vliet.  Van Vliet of course was ruled ineligible by the omnipotent NCAA before last season.  Perhaps the biggest concern is at G with Zak Showalter and Bronson Koenig shouldering the load but nothing much proven behind either of them on the depth chart.  There won’t be the disruptions of changing your coach (even if the system remains) during the season that definitely hurt Wisconsin last season.

A Top 4 Conference finish followed by a Sweet 16 appearance is a fairly typical Wisconsin season.  There’s no reason that shouldn’t be the minimum.  And frankly, the talent returning suggests expectations could be higher.  Winning the conference regular season title and an Elite 8/Final Four are within reach, affirmed by the lofty preseason ranking.

2015-16 Wisconsin Statistics:

2015-16 Wisconsin Big Ten Conference Statistics:

  • Points Per Game, 11th (68.9)
  • Rebounds Per Game, 9th (34.9)
  • Field Goal %, 11th (43%)
  • Assists Per Game, 12th (11.6)
  • 3P %, 8th (35.8%)
  • 3PA Per Game, 13th (18)
  • Free Throws Made Per Game, 1st (15.3)
  • Free Throws Attempted Per Game, 1st (21.7)
  • Free Throw %, 9th (70.7%)
  • Steals Per Game, 5th (5.88)
  • Turnover Per Game, 5th (10.97)

Wisconsin Badger Preview From Actual Sources:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

BT Powerhouse

SB Nation

Sports Illustrated

ESPN (all of NCAAM basketball)


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