Three Strengths and Three Weaknesses of the Badgers' 2024-25 Roster

Wisconsin Men's Basketball finalized its roster for the upcoming season. Where could it shine and where could it falter?
Rutgers v Wisconsin
Rutgers v Wisconsin / John Fisher/GettyImages

Head Coach Greg Gard filled Wisconsin's final scholarship slot Monday afternoon, signing freshman center Andrija Vukovic of Serbia. Now that we know each of the 15 names going to battle for Gard this winter, we can start to evaluate their skills and shortcomings.

STRENGTH #1: Three-Point Shooting

It wouldn't be an overreaction to think this could be the best three-point shooting team the Badgers have produced under Gard. In nine years at the helm, Gard has had four teams connect on at least 35 percent of its attempts from long range.

The 12 plausible rotation options (everyone but Jack Robison, Jack Janicki, Chris Hodges and Isaac Gard) combined to shoot 298-for-802 (37.2 percent) from beyond the arc during their last full season of action. That percentage would've ranked top 25 in the country a season ago and would be the best three-point clip produced by a Badger team since 2013-14, when it reached the Final Four.

Clearly, three-point shooting was a priority for the coaching staff over the offseason, with John Tonje (38.9 percent in 2022-23), Xavier Amos (38.5 percent in 2023-24) and Camren Hunter (31.1 percent in 2022-23) all attempting more than four threes per game.

Plus, the Badgers' projected starting lineup will feature five more-than-capable shooters for the first time in several years.

While the bench isn't as prolific from long range, the only non-shooters likely to see minutes in 2024-25 are Carter Gilmore and Vukovic -- who are fringe rotation pieces.

WEAKNESS #1: Continuity

Wisconsin returned 90 percent of its offensive production last year, but after a whirlwind of an offseason, that number has plummeted below 50 percent. Three starters and six total players will be integrated into the Badgers' system this season, leaving plenty of work for the coaching staff this summer.

While roster turnover isn't always a negative, it certainly can accentuate growing pains and team chemistry early on.

The starting lineup will have to start from scratch, learning how to play with and off of one another -- a process that can be time consuming -- while the staff has to figure out the best way to set its' players up for success.

Plus, there'll be a shakeup in role definitions. Who will be the go-to option late in the shot clock? Who should take the vocal lead in difficult situations? Who'll be tasked with running the offense and facilitating?

With this many new pieces, growing pains are likely to trickle into the regular season, it's just a matter of how soon the new Badgers gel.

STRENGTH #2: Defense

For the first time in 30 years, Wisconsin's defense yielded 70 points per game, taking a clear step back from 2022-23 when the team allowed just 63.6 points per game.

While it's impossible to pinpoint the root of the defensive drop-off, players like AJ Storr, Connor Essegian and Nolan Winter were more of liabilities than assets on that end of the floor. Throughout the year, Greg Gard harped on the team's need to grow defensively, but the group never quite reached expectations, making it imperative to improve over the offseason.

And improve they did.

Storr and Essegian are no longer on the roster while Camren Hunter generated 1.5 steals per game in both seasons at Central Arkansas and Xavier Amos logged 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals per game last season at NIU.

Both newcomers possess the requisite wingspan to impact passing lanes and assist on dribble-drives while having the footspeed to shine on-ball. Alongside Max Klesmit, the Badgers roster has the makings of an excellent perimeter defense, especially when plus-defenders Kamari McGee and John Blackwell enter the conversation.

Down low, Wisconsin had difficulties keeping opposing bigs in check last year, with Steven Crowl and Nolan Winter being outmatched physically by some of the beasts of the Big 10.

Andrija Vukovic figures to immediately improve the Badgers' post defense, giving Gard a big-bodied center to throw at the opposition.

Assuming John Tonje holds his own on defense -- something he had no issues with at Colorado State -- Wisconsin appears to have little to no holes on defense and should improve upon it's 70 ppg allowed from a season ago.

WEAKNESS #2: Top-End Talent

The Gard-led Badgers have lived by the adage "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," developing overlooked prospects and putting together a cohesive team of quality players in order to succeed.

The now-departed Storr broke that mold when he transferred in from St. John's as a former four-star recruit and earned all-B1G second team honors in his lone season in Madison.

Sans Storr, Camren Hunter (2022 First Team All-ASUN and 2023 Third Team All-ASUN) and Max Klesmit (2022 Third Team All-Southern Conference) are the only Badgers to make an all-conference team, with nobody making the cut in the Big 10.

Even with others expected to take a step forward in 2024-25, it's hard to imagine any Wisconsin players will be added to that list this season.

Wisconsin's lack of top end talent isn't necessarily a knock on the likes of Steven Crowl, John Tonje or Klesmit, but instead a compliment to the vast talent pool of the conference.

For example, Crowl will have to compete with reigning MWC Player of the Year Great Osobor (Washington), Oumar Ballo (Indiana), reigning Big 10 Co-Freshman of the Year Owen Freeman (Iowa) and Julian Reese (Maryland), among others, for a bid at the center position.

We've seen Greg Gard get the job done without top-end talent, and having a multi-faceted attack can cause issues for opposing defenses, but not having a player consistently producing at an all-league level hurts more than it helps.

STRENGTH #3: Depth

Since missing the NCAA Tournament in 2022-23, Wisconsin has improved it's overall depth for a second consecutive offseason. There's 12 players on the roster with legitimate chances of earning regular playing time, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Gard utilize a 10-deep rotation throughout the regular season.

Having plenty of reliable options off the bench is a recipe for success in the dog days of inter-conference play. Wisconsin hasn't been able to reap the benefits of that recipe the past two seasons, stumbling to the finish line of regular-season action. In 2023-24, the Badgers dropped eight of their final 11 regular-season games and went 9-11 overall in conference play in 2022-23.

This year, Wisconsin will have an exceptional mix of youth and veterans in the second unit, with impact players Kamari McGee, John Blackwell and Nolan Winter being joined by newcomers Daniel Freitag and Andrija Vukovic.

Additionally, no two bench players have the same skillset, making the Badgers incredibly versatile.

Vukovic's large frame compliments Winter's slender and mobile playstyle at the five, Markus Ilver's shooting gives a different look than Carter Gilmore's defensive-oriented attack at the four and McGee, Freitag and Blackwell each possess contrasting strengths.

WEAKNESS #3: Backup Power Forward

For a third straight season, Gilmore and Ilver will share backup power forward minutes. Despite their longevity, the pair combined to average 3.1 points per game last season. Together, they shot 10-for-40 from three-point range and put together a near 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Instead of offensive production, the pair is known for their high energy and hustle, crashing the glass hard and doing the little things that aid winning.

Even with the lack of statistical production, Gard refrained from adding another four man, leaving the 8-to-12 minutes with Xavier Amos on the bench up for grabs.

Perhaps John Tonje will slide to the power forward position in what would be a small-ball lineup, which could be a reason for Gard's inaction at the position. Still, there isn't an exciting nor reliable backup-four option on the roster.

The Takeaway

While we won't know just how strong or weak this team is in the aforementioned facets, the identity of this team and Greg Gard's vision remains clear: the Badgers will shoot and defend at a high level with production coming from myriad players.