4. Wisconsin should outperform their ranking
Wisconsin was a perennial 25-win team and usually finished seasons ranked during Bo Ryan’s tenure at Wisconsin. Year after year, Ryan’s teams outperformed their preseason rank. Their back-to-back Final Four runs brought more attention to the program, which now appears healthy as ever despite Ryan’s absence. While being ranked ninth is certainly not an insult, the Badgers have a good case that they are ranked too low in polls again.
The Badgers were replacing five key players and underwent a tumultuous start last year, culminating in Ryan stepping down. Longtime assistant Greg Gard stepped in during the interim and eventually earned the full-time title after turning the Badgers around.
At one point last year, the Badgers were an uncharacteristic 9-9. Junior forward Nigel Hayes was inefficient in a featured role, Bronson Koenig wasn’t creating shots, and no one else was stepping up consistently. Due largely to the emergence of Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ, the Badgers went 13-4 the rest of the season before losing to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
During that run, Wisconsin beat four top-10 teams. Greg Gard won the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award for his coaching efforts, Nigel Hayes was First Team Big 10, and Bronson Koenig earned a Third Team nod. Ethan Happ won Big 10 Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All Defense team.
Wisconsin returns four senior starters this year: Hayes, Koenig, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter. Ethan Happ returns to round out the starting five that had so much success in the latter half of last season. Jordan Hill, Charles Thomas, Alex Illikainen, and Khalil Iverson all found some success in small roles last year and will look to build on their efforts.
Wisconsin fans will also see coveted recruits Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet for the first time as well. Pritzl in particular should help fill the shooting role that they sometimes lacked last year when Koenig wasn’t hitting from outside.
Wisconsin has a strong case to be ranked sixth. No. 6 ranked North Carolina lost their best two players and it remains to be seen whether Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson will live up to their potential.
Seventh ranked Xavier features a great pairing of guards Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett but lost to Wisconsin in last year’s tournament. Virginia lost ACC Player Malcolm Brogdon and underrated post Anthony Gill and prized transfer Austin Nichols has recently been suspended for the first two games of the season for “a violation of team rules.” Look for the Badgers to climb the ranks.