Wisconsin Basketball Will Be Better Than Expected


Even though Wisconsin Basketball is coming off back-to-back Final Four trips, there are still a lot of people sleeping on this year’s team. Sports Illustrated has predicted that Wisconsin will finish 7th in the Big Ten. CBS and BTN both picked the Badgers to finish 5th. CBS’s Doug Gotlieb has Wisconsin as the 7th best team in the Big Ten, and ESPN’s Dick Vitale doesn’t think Wisconsin is a top 30 team. It appears that after a one-year hiatus, people are back to sleeping on Wisconsin. But this Badgers team is not nearly as bad as the experts say. This team will contend for the Big Ten championship, will be at least a top 15-team and will be no lower than a 4-seed.

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First of all, people seem to be forgetting about who returns. And the most important returnee is Bo Ryan. Bo Ryan has coached at Wisconsin for 14 years. And he has never missed the NCAA Tournament. He has never finished worse than 4th place in the Big Ten. This team will win games, just because of Bo Ryan’s principles. They won’t turn it over, they won’t foul, and they won’t take bad shots. That’s a pretty good recipe for beating more talented teams. Remember, Bo took a team with a starting line-up of Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans, and Jared Bergerren to a 5 seed in the big dance and a top 4 Big Ten finish. And there is no question that this year’s team is much deeper and more talented than that one.

Apr 6, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan reacts in the second half against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2015 NCAA Men

The Kohl Center is also returning. And Wisconsin rarely loses there. I can’t even count the number of times a highly ranked team came in to the Kohl Center and lost to an underdog Wisconsin team. The Badgers has an all-time record of 210-22 in the Kohl center under Bo Ryan. Even if this Wisconsin is much worse than expected (they won’t be), the home court advantage of the Kohl Center will be enough to win a lot of games.

The new foul rules will also greatly benefit Wisconsin. This year, college basketball refs will be strictly enforcing freedom of movement calls. There will be a lot of fouls and whistles, and the games will be nearly unwatchable at times. But Bo Ryan has to be thrilled. Because while every other team in the nation is adjusting to the new rules, Wisconsin will be just fine. The Badgers don’t foul, and they don’t play defense with their hands. That is the first thing Bo Ryan teaches his players every single year. So Wisconsin will shoot a lot of free throws, and their opponents will not. That’s another good recipe for winning a lot of games.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Wisconsin does have some very good returning talent. Between Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin has the firepower to make a big-time tournament run. Hayes is a consensus top 15-player in college basketball. He can score from the post, off the dribble, and beyond the 3-point line. He’s going to be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Koenig has also been named to the pre-season All-Big Ten team. He is going to have the ball in his hands a lot, and that is a good thing, because he is a deadly shooter, and can attack the rim off the dribble. He also has great court vision, and this is the year he will prove why teams like UNC and Kansas were so desperate to have him. I can’t imagine there are many better 1-2 punches in college basketball than Hayes and Koenig.

Apr 6, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Bronson Koenig (24) shoots over Duke Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook (2) during the first half in the 2015 NCAA Men

One great player may not be enough to win games consistently, but Bo Ryan has already proven that he can win with two. The 2010-11 Wisconsin team was a lot like this one. There were a lot of young, unproven guys fighting for their chance to shine. But like this year’s team, it had two stars. Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer both averaged 18 PPG. Nobody else on that team-averaged double-figures. Wisconsin finished 3rd in the Big Ten and reached the Sweet 16.

Even better news is that Wisconsin’s 3-7 guys this year should be superior than the one’s on the 2010-11 team. RS Freshman Ethan Happ is a fantastic post-player, with a good midrange game. He will probably be the team’s 3rd leading-scorer.

Zak Showalter will take over the Josh Gasser role of being a lock-down defender, and making all the little plays. Showy flashed his ability at times last season, most notably with a 6-point one-man run in the Sweet 16 versus UNC. He has the athleticism to get to the rim, but his 3-point shot has also reportedly improved.

Zak Showalter takes a Northwestern defender off the dribble. Jim Oxley photo

Vitto Brown will also look to breakout in his 3rd year. Freshmen Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas are going to play a lot this season. Both have the athleticism and talent to be major factors for the Badgers on both ends of the court. And this is a Bo Ryan team. Someone unexpected, someone that we are not talking about, will explode on to the scene. Maybe RS Sophomore Riley Dearring?

So yeah, this Wisconsin team is still pretty good, even if they aren’t as talented as last year. No, they won’t be 1-seeds, and making the Final Four is a long shot. But this is a top-15 team in the country. They will contend for the Big Ten title. This certainly will not be the first Bo Ryan team to finish outside the top-4 in the Big Ten.

One last thing to keep in mind… In 2013-14, the year when Wisconsin made its first Final Four under Bo Ryan, the Badgers were ranked 21st in the preseason Coaches Poll, and grossly underrated by every “expert” in the country. This year, the Badgers are ranked 17th. Never doubt a Bo Ryan team.

Next: Bart Houston Proves To Be a Reliable Backup

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