Welcome to Palestra Back’s Season Preview! All week we’ll be highlighting some of the most fascinating teams in college basketball. These are the best teams or the highest ranked teams, just the handful that we think you’ll want to have an extra eye on over the next few months.
Why Do We Care?
For the first time since the Mesozoic Era, Wisconsin enters a season without being able to count on the services of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. In true Badgers fashion, Wisconsin will still bring back a host of reliable starters and be a contender in the Big Ten. After toppling mighty Villanova during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin looks to carry momentum into this season.
Who is Gone?
As I just mentioned, Hayes and Koenig are no longer in Madison. They aren’t the only departures either. Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter are also no longer wearing red and white. Those are four cornerstones of Wisconsin basketball and by no means an easy class to replace.
Adding insult to injury, neither Koenig or Hayes made an NBA roster this season. Is there a TV network willing to produce and broadcast a show about their adventures travelling to and playing in Europe? Asking for every living breathing basketball fan with access to cable.
Who is Back?
The pain of losing one of college basketball’s most memorable duos is lessened by the collection of players remaining at Wisconsin. Most notably, Ethan Happ gives Badgers fans something to be really excited about. He is one of the most puzzingly unique players in the nation. The 6’10 center averaged 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game, while leading the Big Ten in steal rate for the 2nd consecutive season. He made exactly half of his free throws and did not attempt a 3-point basket. In fact, according to Hoop-Math.com, only 18.5 percent of Happ’s shots were outside the restricted area and he only made 34.8 percent of those jump shots. To recap, he’s a lanky center who can’t shoot and doesn’t even try to, because he does absolutely everything else well. We haven’t even mentioned his skill as a passer, ranking 14th in the Big Ten in assist rate. No player within 5 inches of Happ’s height topped him on that list. His variety and diversity of skills makes my brain hurt. If you asked if I think he can produce in the NBA, I think I’d have an aneurysm.
Joining Happ is a nice collection of characters that should make for a formidable Big Ten team. Khalil Iverson can jump through the roof and make plays that few other collegians are capable of. D’Mitrik Trice is an up and coming point guard, eager to eclipse the stellar career of his brother, Travis. Brevin Pritzl provided the Badgers valuable minutes last season and, last time I checked, is named BREVIN PRITZL.
Who is New?
A trio of four star recruits is highlighted by top 100 player Nate Reuvers from Lakeville High School in Lakeville, Minnesota. I’m not even sure Wisconsin had to recruit him, because guys named Nate from towns like Lakeville just sort of belong at Wisconsin. I think he was born pre-destined to play in Madison.
AP Poll: Not ranked (but received the 32nd most votes)
Coaches Poll: Not ranked (but received the 32nd most votes)
The snub from both preseason polls surprised me a bit. Other teams may get a bit more attention or have higher ceilings, but check back in a few months when Ethan Happ is printing double-doubles and Wisconsin is rolling off wins. The Badgers will certainly be competitive with the top of the Big Ten.
Big Games on the Schedule
The Badgers waste no time diving right in this season. They’ll play EIGHT top 100 KenPom teams before December 10. That list includes a feisty Yale team, as well as Xavier, Baylor, Virginia, Ohio State, Penn State, Temple, and Marquette. The Badgers will have little time for figuring things out on the fly with that slate.
Oh, right. If you’re wondering why they have OSU and PSU so early, the Big Ten is playing two conference games in early December this season. It’s downright dumb.
Header photo via UWBadgers.com
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, SALTMoney.org, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to email@example.com