The 2014-15 season was a historic one for Wisconsin as the Badgers played for the NCAA title for the first time in 74 years.
As a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, Wisconsin defeated Coastal Carolina, Oregon, North Carolina, Arizona and upended top-seeded and title favorite Kentucky in route to the National Championship game. After beating the Wildcats by seven in the Final Four, the Badgers simply ran out of gas as Duke managed a 68-63 victory.
Under head coach Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has advanced to the NCAA Tournament all 14 seasons since he took over the program in 2001. The Badgers won the Big Ten for the first time since 2008 and finished with a school-best 36-4 overall record with losses to Rutgers, Maryland and to Duke twice.
Key Offseason Departures: Frank Kaminsky (forward), Sam Dekker (forward), Duje Dukan (forward), Josh Gasser (guard), Traevon Jackson (guard)
Wisconsin lost its two top scorers to the NBA in senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker. Kaminsky, the National Player of the Year, led the with 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as he set a school record with 732 points on the season. His counterpart Dekker finished second-best with 13.9 points along with 5.5 rebounds per game.
Three of its top seven most active players are also gone due to graduation. Led by Josh Gasser, who started all 40 games and averaged 6.6 points in 33 minutes per game.
Traevon Jackson averaged 8.1 points per game before suffering a season-ending foot injury in January. Duje Dukan was the top option off the bench with 15.9 minutes per game.
Key Additions: Charlie Thomas (forward), Andy Van Vliet (forward), Alex Illikainen (forward), Brevin Pritzl (guard), Khalil Iverson (guard/forward)
Considering the Badgers lost five of their top seven players from a year ago including stars in Kaminsky and Dekker, it led to a large influx of freshmen. Wisconsin added five freshmen to its roster.
Led by Wisconsin native Brevin Pritzl this is a class made up of big and athletic playes, who will have some big shoes to fill soon. Prtizl is a four-star commit, and was ranked No. 50 in the 2015 class by Scout.com. The shooting guard has a knack to make a big play and has serious range.
Charlie Thomas, Andy Van Vliet and Alex Illikainen are all 6’8′ or taller and can play either power forward or center. Iverson is an athletic wing, who can be used as a shooting guard or small forward if the Badgers choose to use smaller lineups.
Outside of Pritzl, no one other freshman is expected to a make steady contribution in Year 1.
After losing only one regular season non-conference matchup a year ago to eventual champion Duke, the Badgers are set to have a rather winnable non-conference schedule.
Wisconsin starts with three home tuneup games against Western Illinois, Siena and North Dakota before playing Georgetown in New York and then traveling to take on a solid Oklahoma team to end November.
Then in December, the toughest matchups come against Syracuse, Temple and Marquette as the Big Ten season starts on Dec. 29.
In Ryan’s tenure, Wisconsin has only lost six conference games or more twice (2005, 2008). His young team faces a brutal conference slate where they’ll face contenders Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue each twice. The Badgers square off with Michigan on Feb. 28 in a game that could be very meaningful for postseason play.
Final Preview and Prediction
The experience of Bo Ryan and the return of rising junior forward Nigel Hayes has this team floating around the back end of Today’s U Top 25. Hayes finished as the team’s third leading scorer with 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as he shot an effective 39 percent from 3-point land.
Wisconsin has more than just Hayes. Fellow junior point guard Bronson Koenig is moving into the lineup after making 24 starts on his way to an 8.7 points per game average last season. It will likely be a three-headed race for the shooting guard spot with redshirt sophomore Jordan Hill, redshirt junior Zak Showalter and freshman Brevin Pritzl all battling for the starting gig.
Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ should dig in as a starter next to Hayes. He was the Badgers top recruit in the 2014 class. As for the three-spot, freshman Khalil Iverson could prove to be the most viable option with his athleticism.
It will be a much different looking Wisconsin bunch this season. With a tough conference schedule and a mid-pack non-conference slate it could be a challenge for the Badgers to finish as anything more than fourth or fifth in the Big Ten.
This team has talent, but it’s young, so it will take time for the pieces to come together under Ryan’s command this season. If they can do that, they could find themselves back in the tournament once again.