The Wisconsin Badgers host St. Francis (Brooklyn) tomorrow night, November 9th, at the Kohl Center in the season opener. Tipoff is at 7:00 PM (Central Time) and will be televised on BTN+.
The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team will enter the 2021-22 season with lots of new faces, and after an offseason filled with controversy, that’s probably a good thing. This is one of those rare years when a printed out roster should be within reach for the first few games of the season to help identify who everybody is for UW.
The Badgers fell well short of expectations in 2020-21 with a senior laden roster and its second round exit in the NCAA Tournament preceded by one of the strangest offseason’s you’ll ever see. Former assistant coach Alando Tucker was not brought back for a third season on the staff because he tried to undermine head coach Greg Gard in a plot to work his way up to the head coaching position.
Tucker was replaced by Sharif Chambliss and six of the seven seniors are no longer on the roster as the new wave of Badgers are set to get started. Expectations are low by Wisconsin standards (still an NCAA Tournament team), but it should be exciting to watch this team grow this season and over the next few years.
Who’s UW’s Best Player?
Sophomore guard Johnny Davis is no doubt the most talented player on the roster, and he should be in position for a huge season. Davis wasn’t as aggressive as he needed to be last season, which can be a tough thing to do as a freshman on a senior-heavy team. He came off the bench in all 31 games and averaged 7 points. He shot 44.1 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range.
A hesitancy to be aggressive to get to the rim should not be an issue this season (and beyond) for Davis, because this is his team now. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t lead the team in scoring at the end of the year.
This is a tough topic to give a clear cut No. 1 answer on, but the biggest strength could be the hunger of the young players and the new incomers. Heading into 2020-21, everyone knew their roles with almost every contributor returning. This year, many players need to prove themselves to earn minutes.
Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl are the only two upperclassmen who were in UW’s regular rotation from a year ago. Everyone else is in a position where they need to solidify their role. With incoming transfers and young players looking to carve out their spots, there should be a healthy competition for playing time, particularly early on in the season.
Few of the players have been through the physical grind of a Big Ten season. Davis, Davison and Wahl are the only players who received regular minutes throughout the 2020-21 season. The Badgers are losing a ton of production on both ends of the floor from last season.
Key To The Season:
The key to this season will be will be how quickly this group comes together. Last year’s team didn’t seem to have the same chemistry or have as much fun as it did in the 2019-20 season when they rattled off 8-wins in a row to win the Big Ten Conference before COVID-19 shut down college basketball.
After the offseason fallout, it made sense that last year played out the way that it did. When one assistant coach is telling the players not to listen to other coaches on the staff, that would certainly cause some issues.
Wisconsin will move forward with experienced and proven assistant coaches and a roster full of potential ready to buy in. There’s certainly a possibility that UW could struggle early, but if things start to click, this will be a tough team to beat down the stretch.
Scouting The Backcourt:
Johnny Davis and Brad Davison are clearly going to be the backcourt starters and there’s a good understanding of what to expect from them. Davis should be the star of the team and have a real breakout season and the offense should run through him. Davison is the old man of the group and will continue to make all the gritty hustle plays, take charges and drive opposing team fans crazy, on top of being a good three-point shooter.
Elsewhere in the rotation, expect to see lots of true freshman Chucky Hepburn off the bench as a pass-first point guard. I really believe Hepburn will make an impact early on for UW. Wake Forest transfer Jahcobi Neath will see the floor and he’s known for his 3-point shooting ability.
Scouting The Frontcourt:
I have an idea of what the starting front court will be on opening night and it’s likely going to be Tyler Wahl, Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl.
Wahl is very aggressive on the defensive end and on the boards and it’s possible we see his offensive game take a step forward as a Junior this season. Carlson is a sophomore who would have logged a lot of minutes last season if it weren’t for an upper body injury that forced him to miss a majority of the season, but he will be relied on a lot this year. Crowl is a 7-footer who appeared in 12 games last season as a freshman, and he will see a ton of tough matchups against the bigs of the Big Ten.
Carter Gilmore played in just nine games last year, but he will see the floor regularly this year. UW brought in a 7-foot, 257-pound senior Chris Vogt this offseason who has played for Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati in his career.
A wild card in this group is true freshman Markus Ilver, who is from Estonia.
Predicting How The Season Will Go:
A roster like Wisconsin has going into 2021-22 is always fascinating, because with so many new players coming from all over the place, it’s impossible to predict what will happen.
Actually, it is possible, and I’ll do it right here.
Wisconsin could struggle to find a rhythm early on in the season in tough non-conference games against the teams featured in the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas.
Eventually, the players will understand their roles as different lineup combinations are tested early in the year and the Badgers will find a groove. After a potentially slow start to the season, Wisconsin will get hot in January and finish in sixth place in the toughest (and best) conference in the country (Big Ten) and they will earn a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament.