The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team is coming off a year where they made it to the Sweet 16 but lost in a demoralizing fashion to the Florida Gators in overtime. The Badgers will also have to rebound from this loss next year without four starters from the Sweet 16 team.
Seniors Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Bronson Koenig played their last game against Florida and will leave a huge void that needs filling next year. Despite losing these key players, the Badgers will return a few with game experience and bring in a recruiting class that, on paper, looks to be one of the best in school history.
Meet the newcomers
Minnesota products Brad Davison and Nathan Reuvers had very productive senior high school seasons and are some of the top Minnesota players in the 2017 class. The other coveted recruit of the class, Kobe King, is well-known around Wisconsin and brought home the Gatorade Player of the Year Award. King’s versatile game should transfer well to college athletics. This class of skilled freshmen could play an integral part of the rotation next year.
Next year’s possible rotation took an unexpected turn when redshirt junior guard Jordan Hill announced he would be looking to transfer after he finishes his degree this academic year. With his experience, Hill easily could have slipped into the starting lineup with the two guards from last year graduating. This shocking transfer could open the door for people like redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl and freshmen Kobe King and Brad Davison.
Who will be stepping up
Taking these factors into consideration, the possible starting lineup is up for debate. It goes without saying junior forward Ethan Happ is basically a write-in at this point, barring an injury or other unforeseen circumstances. Happ will likely be slotted into the five spot and will hold down the paint once again. After guaranteeing Happ’s spot in the starting lineup, things get a lot more interesting and unpredictable.
D’Mitrik Trice had a solid freshman season despite having some struggles toward the end of the year. It is likely that he will be the team’s starting point guard heading into next year especially with the unexpected departure of Jordan Hill. Sliding over the shooting guard spot, there is a good chance that this one will be up for grabs. The early advantage in the race will probably go to Pritzl as he played well last year in limited minutes and offers the most experience for coach Greg Gard. But don’t sleep on King or Davison and their ability to compete with Pritzl when camp opens up for the Badgers.
The small forward spot also seems to be locked down as Kahlil Iverson returns after a pretty successful campaign last year and strong play during the tournament run. Iverson will bring much needed toughness, athletic ability and rebounding to a team that will have to play small due to a lack of size and experience on the inside outside of star Happ. Iverson will be called to perform on offense in a capacity that hasn’t been asked to him so far in his Badgers career.
Filling in the blanks
The power forward or “four” spot is where things will get especially interesting for UW in the 2017-18 season. The frontrunners as of now seem to be junior forward Alex Illikainen and or maybe junior forward Charles Thomas if they decide to move him from his better fit at the five spot.
Due to relative lack of experience, a mix of the two is the most likely solution at this point. There is a chance redshirt freshman Aleem Ford could also break out after his redshirt season last year and compete with Illikainen and Thomas for the power forward spot. Incoming-freshman Reuvers could vie for some playing time as well. The power forward battle will be something to watch going into next season.
So as of now, the Badgers will likely send an undersized and young starting five out next season, at least to begin the year. Happ will likely be his usual self next year, producing at a high level and manning the center position. Trice showed a lot of promise in his freshman year and looks ready to take over as floor general in 2017. Iverson is quite the athlete and looks ready to finally assume a larger offense role and reach his incredibly high ceiling.
Outside of those three, things are less set in stone. Many players who have sat behind one of the best senior classes in school history will be asked to contribute and that could make for an exciting season for Badgers fans.