With Wisconsin losing 56-54 to North Texas on Tuesday night, the focus shifts to what is an important off-season. It’s rare for the Badgers to finish outside of the top 4 in the conference, not too mention below .500 in conference play and miss the NCAA tournament. It was a rough year overall with seemingly every game coming down to the wire and those games ending in disappointment more often than not down the home stretch.
The good news is there won’t be much, if any, roster turnover heading into next season. Tyler Wahl is the only senior and he has the potential to use his covid year to play again next season. Fans may not like the idea of running it back, and it’s hard to blame them. However, this program has typically done very well when they’ve returned a veteran group. They were a couple baskets away from finishing 2nd in the conference this year. Another year of growth and development will only help.
With that said, this roster has holes and Greg Gard needs to search high and low in the transfer portal to find the right fits. Wisconsin is a unique destination for potential transfer players. It doesn’t sugar coat anything and will always favor fit over raw talent. With so many players entering the portal these days, it’s possible to find both.
Who is heading to Madison?
Before any transfer portal players are added, the Badgers have 3 recruits joining the team. Nolan Winter, Gus Yalden and John Blackwell are the 3 incoming freshmen for next season. I don’t anticipate any of these players being immediate fixes for the issues we saw this season, but they are great building blocks.
Nolan won player of the year for the state of Minnesota. Gus is a 4 star player who had an impressive offer list along with racking up national recognition as the season went along. Finally, John is the type of long, athletic guard this program needs. He has the ability to shoot the ball and has the athleticism to be a slasher.
This recruiting class may not be flashy on paper, but they are getting 3 players that fit the Wisconsin mold while having high skill potential. It shouldn’t take long to develop any of them and wouldn’t shock me if one of them made some type of impact next season.
Who could be moving on?
Even though the entire roster could be back next season, it wouldn’t shock me if we saw a few transfer or lose their scholarship. I don’t want to call these players out by name but there are a few players at the very end of the bench that will never see important game action. Those spots should be reserved for freshman that need time to develop, not players with very limited ceilings that likely will never see the floor in their Badger career.
Two names that I could see moving on are Jahcobi Neath and Jordan Davis. To say Neath has struggled to stay healthy is the biggest of understatements. He’s only played in 26 games over 2 seasons in Madison and he played injured in most of those. He likely would have been a nice depth piece to have this season. Unfortunately his position will likely be targeted in the portal and with Chucky, McGee and Kelsmit already ahead of him on the depth chart, there isn’t a spot for him to take minutes.
Jordan Davis is also a name to keep an eye on. He had a few games where he shot well and plays solid defense, but you can’t have 8 players on the roster between 6’3″ and 6’5″. Davis struggled with consistency and lost his starting role to a true freshman. He appeared to buy into the bench role but this team needs consistent scoring out of the small forward position next season.
We also could see Tyler Wahl decide to move on. As important as he has been for this program over the last 4 years, opening up a roster spot and filling it with a more versatile player may be better for the team overall. With limited range and a reduced ability to finish after the ankle injury, a more versatile and athletic power forward would help immensely.
Biggest needs heading into next season
Considering the limitations of this seasons roster, the fact they were as competitive as they were was impressive. The players they lost last season due to graduation, the NBA draft and the transfer portal could have been a starting lineup themselves (albeit not a great one). Greg Gard did struggle to fill those holes but he’s much more aware of the teams needs this time around and Wisconsin has already been in contact with a handful of players.
One of the biggest downfalls of this years team was a lack of shot creator. In crunch time, Hepburn was the player with the ball in his hands and we saw how that went. Having someone with the ability to create space and get shots off, similar to Jordan Taylor, would be huge. In a perfect world, it’s a player that can score inside and out but I’d take either at this point. A big reason for prolonged scoring droughts is a lack of go to scorer.
The season started off promising in the shooting department. Chucky, Essesgian and Klesmit looked good from behind the arc early in the season but fell off as the season went along. Essegian isn’t someone I’m worried about long term but the other two aren’t players I would rely on to consistently knock down shots. Hepburn at point should be creating looks for others while Max can knock shots down, but is very streaky. Bringing in a shooter with some size would be ideal.
This team struggled with rebounding in a big way this season. They just didn’t have the size needed to hang with the bigger teams in the B1G. Crowl may be 7 feet tall, but he isn’t an overly strong rebounder. Outside of him, the tallest players that saw the court consistently were 6’9″ Tyler Wahl and 6’7″ Carter Gilmore. Both rely on positioning and don’t have the athleticism needed to go up and get the ball.
Who currently on the roster can fill a need next season?
I see 3 players currently on the roster that have a major opportunity heading into next season.
Markus played a decent amount early in the season but was relegated to the bench once B1G play started. When he did play, we saw a willing (and able) shooter who struggled with the physicality of the conference. This is nothing new for the Badgers. Every year they have players that make a big jump between their sophomore and junior season. I think Ilver could be that guy. He’s 6’8″ and while he could use some more weight, he has the length this team needs.
Even though he mostly shot 3’s while on the court, he did have some feel in the post. If he can become reliable enough on defense to see the court more often, he would fill a lot of holes on the roster. His length would help him get off shots with ease and he’d help in the rebounding department. I’m not sure how athletic he is but anything he could add there would be a massive bonus.
Chris didn’t see the court much but that’s expected from a redshirt freshman. After sitting out his senior year of high school, he was always going to be very raw the second he arrived on campus. With that said, he has the potential to make an impact for this team. At 6’9″ and 245 pounds, he has the ideal size to battle with the big boys in the B1G.
Greg Gard had a very quick hook with him this season but figuring out how to play defense without fouling will be huge for him. He appeared to move well out there and even showed touch in the post on offense. As long as he can figure out the defensive side of things, he’ll see the court more next season.
This is one I don’t feel overly confident in but he has a sweet stroke and could be a solid bench scorer if he can find playing time. I don’t see him becoming a starter for this team but being a depth player that can come in and make 3’s would be huge. He likely won’t ever be a good B1G defender at his size but reliable bench shooters can’t be overlooked.
I like this teams outlook heading into next season. Even if Gard doesn’t bring in any major transfers, I think internal development alone will pay huge dividends. With that said, the ceiling of this team takes a huge jump if he can bring in 1-3 players that fill the needs listed above. This roster needs better depth and more competition. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of that on the roster at the moment.
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