Key Departures: D’Mitrik Trice (Grad); Micah Potter (Grad); Aleem Ford (Grad); Nate Reuvers (Grad)
New In Town: Chris Vogt (<–Cincy); Jahcobi Neath (<–Wake Forest); Chucky Hepburn (#122); Markus Ilver (#144); Matthew Mors (#146); Chris Hodges (#151)
State of the Program:
Wisconsin had what was likely the most disappointing year of any team in the country a year ago, as they returned their entire team that finished 3rd in the Big Ten in 2020, only to end the 2021 regular season going 4-8 down the stretch as the wheels fell off. There was an apparent lack of leadership, which was highlighted by players and coaches pointing fingers at each other in a private team meeting that ended up being recorded and leaked to the media. The stories that unfolded in the off-season were shocking given the fact that the roster included a large senior class, as they put the blame squarely on Coach Greg Gard’s shoulders. From an outside perspective it seemed a little petty, as the Seniors trashed their coach on the way out the door after collapsing under the weight of the expectations for their success. And then not only did one of them record the private conversation, but in turn leaked it to the media. Not right on any level, so you have to lean towards taking the side of Coach on this one. Gard appears to be in a good place regardless, as there was not a mass exodus aside from the seniors who graduated, and G Brad Davison (SR) is actually returning for his 5th year with the Badgers under Gard. Also returning are key rotation pieces Jonathan Davis (SO) and Tyler Wahl (JR), as well as the rest of the now sophomore class, PF Ben Carlson, G Lorne Bowman (RS), G Jordan Davis, and C Steven Crowl. This will be a very different year for Gard, as it will be all about development for a young team, as he has huge FR and SO classes.
This is a large incoming group for the Badgers as they attempt to replace 5 of their 8 rotation players from a season ago. Leading the group is the likely starting C 7’1” Chris Vogt (SR) out of Cincinnati. He’s not going to be a dominate force inside, but he can finish at the rim, rebound and block shots and is an essential piece in a Conference that boasts the country’s most elite big men. He will battle Crowl for minutes at the 5 and I would imagine he earns the start and bigger minutes of the 2. Next up is 6’3” G Jahcobi Neath (JR) who comes from Wake Forest after serving as a backup in his 2 seasons there. He’s a strong, physical guard who excels when attacking the basket and using his strength and athleticism to finish through contact. He will battle for backup minutes once again, and if he can develop a jump shot and defend well he could be a nice piece for the Badgers. The top of the Freshman class is 6’1” PG Chucky Hepburn (#122). He reminds me of a guy like Yogi Ferrell, a small twitchy PG who can shoot as well as facilitate as a playmaker despite being undersized. I like him to explode later in his career, and he even could assume a starting role in the backcourt by season’s end. I think the vets get the start early but expect Hepburn to have an ever-expanding role. 6’8” F Markus Ilver (#144) also enters the program with a shot at minutes early in his career. He is a lethal catch and shoot marksman, and can also attack the basket off the bounce. His limitations involve his athleticism, as he’s not the quickest or the strongest, but his jumper will undoubtedly earn him minutes and he could develop into a great player for the program. Matthew Mors (#146) enters the program as a 6’7” PF similar to Ilver with a bit more strength and athleticism and not as good of a jumper. Mors could earn minutes as a 9th or 10th option or he may redshirt, either way I think he can develop into a nice piece down the road. The final newcomer is yet another PF, 6’8” Chris Hodges (#151). Despite his listing as a PF I see him more as a small ball 5, as he excels at getting position inside, rebounding and finishing underneath. He hasn’t shown ability to stretch the floor yet, but he does have more strength than the other F’s in the class.
Prediction: 9th Big Ten (NR)
It projects to be a year of rebuilding for Gard and the Badgers, as they have an influx of talent, but none of which is developed enough to be ready to lift up a program losing 4 starters. Jonathan Davis has star potential, and the return of Brad Davison alongside him will help keep the Badgers competitive. Tyler Wahl should join those 2 as starters, along with Chris Vogt at the 5. That leaves a position open, which Gard could go 1 of 2 ways with. He could start Carlson at the 4 with Davison running the show, or hand the reigns to either true Freshman Hepburn or RS FR Lorne Bowman. I really like Hepburn’s potential, but I don’t know how ready he’ll be to run the show. Gard may feel he doesn’t have a choice, as playing big with Carlson might be a disaster defensively. He could start Bowman alongside Davison if that proves better defensively. A lot of questions but it’s more about unproven and underdeveloped options not a plethora of elite talent. That fact has me believing the Badgers have a tough season, and maybe they can beat up on the bottom of the Conference but they certainly will be on the outside looking in come March. All eyes should focus on 2022-23 as much of this group will be returning.