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Wisconsin Basketball Position Preview: Bigs

This is a preview of Wisconsin Basketball’s bigs, which consists of power forwards and centers. This is the third article of a three-part series. The first two are linked below the article.

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Key Losses

Nigel Hayes

Hayes was talked about in-depth in the wing section because he primarily started at small forward last season. But his more natural position was definitely power forward. He was a valuable second option in the post, and he had a good connection with Ethan Happ in high-low sets. The Badgers will miss his defense, rebounding, and scoring down low.

Vitto Brown

Vitto, or 3tto Brown was a sharpshooting stretch four. He hit 32% of his three-point tries as a senior, a sharp regression from 40% his junior season. But opponents always had to respect Brown’s shot, which created more room for Hayes and Ethan Happ to operate. Brown also provided serviceable defense and rebounding, although he rarely provided anything besides turnovers when he tried to create his own shot.

Key Returners

Ethan Happ

You already know about Happ. As a Second Team All-American, Happ became a household name during his junior season. His footwork and ability to finish around the rim made him one of the best post players in the country. He is also one of the best defenders in the conference. With Hayes and Bronson Koenig gone, he will have more pressure on him not only to carry the team, but also to provide leadership. He will likely see a lot of double-teams until the players around him show they can’t be left open. Happ is Wisconsin’s biggest key to success this season. If they want to keep their NCAA tournament streak alive, he is going to need to be an excellent scorer, leader, and passer out of double teams. He has the potential to be all of that, and more.

Andy Van Vliet

As a sophomore last season, Van Vliet played 48 total minutes in just 14 games. But he has reportedly taken a huge jump in both his play and mentality. Now, the 7-footer will likely start alongside Happ in the frontcourt. On offense, he appears to be the perfect complement to Happ. His specialty is his three-point shooting, which should create more space for Happ to operate. As the tallest player on the team, he should also be an asset on the boards. While Van Vliet isn’t a great post scorer yet, that isn’t what the team needs him to be. But they do need him to step up defensively. While he has improved himself physically since he arrived in Madison, he is still skinny and weak for a Big Ten big man. In order to stay on the court, he needs to prove he can defend at a high level.

Charles Thomas

Thomas is a very intriguing breakout possibility for the Badgers. At 6’8 and 255 pounds, Thomas is built like a tank. His strength makes him a good interior defender and rebounder. While he has played some meaningful minutes for the Badgers, he has never been an effective scorer. He shot only 39% from the field last season, which isn’t very good for a big man. However, early returns seem to suggest that his post game has improved. He also drilled a three-pointer in Wisconsin’s Red-White scrimmage. If he can carry that into the regular season, he will likely be a reliable backup for both Happ and Van Vliet.

Khalil Iverson

Iverson will likely start at small forward, which was why he was in the wing section. But Wisconsin has a lot of talented guards. D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Brevin Pritzl, and Kobe King are four of Wisconsin’s best players. In order to get them on the floor as much possible, Greg Gard may employ some four-guard lineups. In such scenarios, Iverson could step in and play the four. While he is slightly undersized, he athleticism more than makes up for. In fact, he may actually be a better fit insider than on the perimeter, especially on offense.

Alex Illikainen

Illikainen was projected to be yet another great Wisconsin shooting big man coming out of high school, but two years later, he hasn’t came to close living up to expectations. He played limited minutes over the last few seasons, and despite having some decent stretches of games, he never looked comfortable on the court. On offense, he is way too hesitant. He constantly passes up open looks that he has proven in the past he can hit. He is nothing more than an average defender and rebounder. At this point in his career, he needs to take a big jump. Otherwise, he will likely be a fringe rotation player and situational backup like he was last season.

Aaron Moesch

Moesch, the only senior on the roster, was awarded a scholarship in outstanding fashion prior to the Australian trip. It remains to be seen whether he’ll earn any real playing time. Last season, he averaged just two minutes per game. But on a young team, Gard may choose to bring in the veteran. At the start of his sophomore season, Gard used Moesch in games to help a young team better understand the swing offense. Something similar wouldn’t be surprising this season.

Key Newcomers

Nathan Reuvers

True freshman Nate Reuvers was the prize of Wisconsin’s heralded three-man recruiting class. At 6’10 with the ability to shoot the ball, he was a 247 Consensus top-75 prospect. However, big men usually take longer to develop than guards. Reuvers still needs to put on quite a bit of weight before he is ready to play at this level. For that reason, there is a good chance he uses a redshirt this season. But if he doesn’t, he likely won’t earn meaningful minutes until the second half of the season.

Projected Rotation

C: Happ 30 min, Thomas 10 min

PF: Van Vliet 17 min, Illikainen 7 min, Thomas 6 min, Iverson 8 min, Moesch 2

Overall Expectations

Ethan Happ is a star, and will continue to be a star. That is the only thing we know for certain about this group. If Van Vliet is good enough on defense to stay on the court and space the floor, and Thomas and Illikainen can take a big step, this frontcourt has an exceptionally high ceiling. But nobody knows what will happen. Van Vliet, Thomas, Illikainen, and Moesch averaged a combined five points per game last season. They all have shown promise at various points, but the lack of experience is evident. There are just so many question marks. 

Other Previews

Guards

Wings

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Badgers Basketball

Full Badgers 2018-19 basketball schedule revealed

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The moment every Wisconsin Badgers basketball fan was waiting for finally arrived on Tuesday afternoon. In a special on BTN, all schedules were released for conference games. 

For the first time ever there will be 20 conference games played, with the Badgers kicking off the B1G schedule on November 30 by taking a trip to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. 

Wisconsin will play a second Big Ten game that week, hosting Rutgers on Dec. 3. 

The overall schedule kicks off with the Badgers hosting Coppin State on Nov. 6 at the Kohl Center. 

Highlighting UW’s non-conference schedule are matchups against fellow Power 5 opponents like NC State, Xavier and Stanford (part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament). Those were all matchups already known though. 

In between the Xavier matchup and UW’s trip to the Bahamas is a visit from Houston Baptist on Nov. 17. 

With the release of the schedule, UW will also see its annual rivalry with Marquette (Dec. 8) renewed.

As of now, there is one open date on the Badgers schedule for Dec. 13th and there has yet to be either Green Bay or Milwaukee on the schedule this season. 

It would be the first time in a very long time that neither of the other two in-state schools meet the Badgers in a regular season matchup. 

The non-conference slate will end on Dec. 29 with Western Kentucky coming to Madison.

Once the usual non-conference slate is finished, the Badgers have a pretty even ride through Big Ten play in January. 

There are challenging sections to the schedule, including a three-game swing in mid-January that will see UW play host to Purdue, travel to Maryland and then return home to play Michigan. 

However, February heats up with the Badgers having to face Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State amongst the final 10 games of the conference slate. 

The season will wrap up with UW taking on Ohio State in Columbus on March 10. 

Here’s a look at the full schedule for the Badgers:

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers land 2019 4-star SF Tyler Wahl

Badgers get 1st player in to the 2019 class and it’s a 4-star forward from Minnesota…sound familiar?

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The long-awaited first commitment of the 2019 class for Wisconsin Badgers basketball has happened.

On Thursday, 4-star 6-7, 200-pound small forward Tyler Wahl announced his verbal pledge to the Badgers.

The Lakeville (Minn.) North star visited UW unofficially on Thursday, following attendance at camps over the past week as well. Following that visit, Wahl decided it was time to wrap up his recruitment.

Wisconsin won out over offers from the likes of Butler, Iowa State, Minnesota and Northwestern and is getting the No. 125 ranked player in the country and No. 25 ranked power forward according to the 247Sports rankings.

It probably didn’t hurt UW in his recruitment to see what former high school teammate Nathan Reuvers did in his first season as a Badger. After playing sparingly early on, Reuvers became an important cog in the Badgers machine this past season.

According to Badger247, Reuvers had some advice for his former teammate if he wanted to be a Badger.

“Our relationship is really good,” said Wahl. “I talk to him at least once a week. He’s told me that they really like me. I just had to get my shot down and keep playing well.”

This past season, Wahl averaged 17.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game for his high school team. Lakeville North also went 22-4 and made the Minnesota state tournament.

What should be interesting is how Wahl’s decision impacts one of UW’s oldest targets in the 2019 recruiting class — Zeke Nnaji. The Badgers have been on Nnaji from the beginning, but the fellow 4-star recruit has seen his offer list blow up in the past few months.

The two are AAU teammates, and while that can be a factor, it may not be the deciding factor in Nnaji’s choice of schools in the coming months.

As for Wahl, he’s seen his shot come a long way and has shown some good defensive work during his recruitment. He screams classic Badgers forward, willing to do the little things on defense to help make the offensive side of the ball that much easier.

UW ranks No. 22 in the country with Wahl’s commitment and could reach even higher depending on what happens with Nnaji’s recruitment and the scholarships they decide to use or bank towards 2020.

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Badgers Basketball

DJ Carton surprises most, leaves Badgers off his final 6

Badgers were 1st to offer for 4-star PG, but were stunningly left off his final 6 list. Where do the Badgers go from here?

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The Wisconsin Badgers saw what no team in college basketball did in point guard D.J. Carton back in 2017. They were the first to offer the budding recruit and were after him hard, but in the end it didn’t apparently matter.

On Friday, Carton announced his list of final six schools via his Twitter account:

Missing from that list were the Badgers, a move that surprised many. Instead, it was Indiana, Iowa, Marquette, Michigan, Ohio State and Xavier that made the cut.

It wasn’t for a lack of effort on the Badgers part to say the least. Wisconsin put the full-court press on him early and often, sending Greg Gard and others to just about every AAU game and got an in-home visit with him in recent months.

So, why didn’t the first high-major team to offer make the list?

It could have had something to do with UW taking 2018 point guard Tai Strickland and thus having a pretty loaded backcourt for the foreseeable future. Strickland was added to the mix late in the 2018 recruiting process due to his skill set, but also because there was clearly a lack of depth in the Badgers backcourt.

That’s not to say Carton wouldn’t have been in the mix, but as a 4-star player he also was going to get opportunities to not have to compete so hard for immediate playing time.

Not seeing Carton in the top six is a bit stunning, given what UW has put in to his recruitment from the get-go. But, unlike years past, the Badgers are not a team stuck without options. The signing of Strickland helped them avoid a crushing blow like going all-in on Carton and not actually landing him at all.

UW also has been heavily looking towards the 2020 class, where there are a number of quality backcourt options out there. One name that UW has been heavily linked with in that class is point guard Reece Beekman out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His grandparents went to Wisconsin and he is a big-time academic person along with a quality point guard in his class.

So, while it may sting to see a guy that UW put so much effort in to not include them in the final mix, this isn’t a situation like missing out on Diamond Stone or Kevon Looney — guys that the Badgers were heavily all-in on and ultimately had to scramble to replace.

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Badgers Basketball

Nigel Hayes pushes for boycott for pay while revealing Badgers nearly did it in 2016

Hayes hopes to spark major change in college athlete pay, while also pushing for a boycott that nearly happened at UW in 2016.

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Nigel Hayes has been an outspoken advocate for the movement to get players in the NCAA to get paid. He’s even still named as a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the NCAA.

On Tuesday, Hayes, who is currently playing for the Sacramento Kings, was part of a panel titled “Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athlete Pay.” It was a panel to help facilitate a discussion around athlete’s pay in college sports.

But, it wasn’t what Hayes had to say around that part of the topic that caught the eye of many. Instead, it was what he revealed about the 2016-17 Wisconsin Badgers that made people take notice. Hayes revealed that he spearheaded a potential move to boycott a high-profile game early in the season.

That game was the matchup with a then-ranked Syracuse Orange team as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

According to Hayes, the idea was proposed by him in a group chat and that the majority of the team was in favor of the bold move. However, Hayes indicated that everyone had to be on board for such a move to happen.

“I knew 90 percent of the guys were on board from the get-go, before I asked the question,” Hayes told USA TODAY Sports after the panel discussion. “But I let them know that if one of you guys says no, we won’t do it because, obviously, we’re a team and we’re going to stick together.

Obviously that didn’t happen and the Badgers went on to win the game 77-60 in front of a packed home crowd at the Kohl Center.

It certainly would’ve been a huge headline-grabber, and Hayes believes that hindsight for those teammates who voted no would change their minds.

“In hindsight, I think those guys that said no would change their mind now. That’s usually what happens. The guys who don’t go on to the NBA, once they leave college, they look back and say, ‘Wow, I was exploited — and now I have nothing to show for it.’ … So, I think we missed our opportunity, but hopefully this word gets out and it will inspire a group of kids that in college now or will be in college.”

Is that really what those former teammates believe, or is Hayes just speaking for them in a way that helps his cause? What we don’t and likely will never know is just how many of his teammates really were against the move and just what those players believe about their college experiences.

Clearly that is a call by Hayes for someone to take up the cause he championed time and again while he was in college. Will someone do it and will it spark the change that Haye believes in?

“With all the money that’s being made that the players are not receiving, there’s going to be a point where the players don’t play,” he said. “It’s going to take the right player or the right team in the right big-game setting … but if you want to get something done, boycott it. That’s the best way to get anything done. … I think it’s something that if we did go through with it, we’d probably be having a very different conversation right now.”

Those are bold statements and there certainly are huge risks involved. College athletics is clearly at a cross-roads and what happens in the next few years may go a long way towards determining its future. Part of that future appears in the hands of the NBA and what it does with expanding the G-League opportunities to younger players and what it does with the path to the draft as well.

What Hayes revealed in this interview is that he clearly has an agenda and isn’t afraid to push people in today’s college game to do what he advocates for.

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