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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. 

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Badgers Basketball

Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks

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They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.

Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.

Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.

Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.

In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.

This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.

As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.

Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers basketball land Davis twins

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After missing out on the Hauser brothers late last month, the Wisconsin Badgers added a different pair of siblings on Saturday night.

Following an offer to the brother of 4-star shooting guard Johnny Davis and an appearance at a team camp this weekend, the Davis brothers announced their pledge to the Badgers according to Badger247.

It took less than a week after head coach Greg Gard gave the O.K. to offer Jordan for the pair to commit to Wisconsin.

Johnny held offers from Marquette, West Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota, DePaul, UNLV and others.

Jordan had offers from UW-Milwaukee and Green Bay, while also becoming a sought after recruit on the football field as well. Once he became serious about wanting to play basketball first, it seemed like a matter of time before Wisconsin offered.

That time came after seeing Jordan play in a camp last weekend.

It also came because it was time to figure out if Johnny was serious about the Badgers or not.

With the July evaluation period coming up, Wisconsin’s coaching staff put the final chips in the middle with this recruitment and it appeared to pay off.

Johnny joins as the No. 141 ranked player in the country and the No. 14 ranked combo guard in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

The twins will join Detroit, Mich. native Lorne Bowman in the 2020 class.

Wisconsin still has one scholarship available in the class as well, which is likely being held for 5-star and Wisconsin native Jalen Johnson.

After missing out on talented in-state players over and over again, this was a major win for Gard and his coaching staff considering how hard schools like West Virginia and Marquette were after Johnny’s commitment.

As for Jordan, it appears the coaching staff believes he is improving enough to get a scholarship and continue his improvement with this program.

Offers don’t come out just because it may win over a different recruit at Wisconsin. That wasn’t Bo Ryan’s style and it also isn’t Greg Gard’s style.

The trio of players put the Badgers at No. 8 in the country and No. 3 in the Big Ten in the 2020 class as of today.

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Former Badgers get No. 2 seed in The Basketball Tournament Columbus regional

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Who doesn’t want $2 million? That’s the prize at stake for winning The Basketball Tournament and a group of former Wisconsin Badgers want in.

On Tuesday it was officially announced that the Kohl Blooded team — spearheaded by former Badgers point guard Kam Taylor — will be the No. 2 seed in the Columbus regional.

They will take on No. 7 seed Mid-American Unity, which is making its second appearance in the TBT after a year off. That group represents teams from across the Mid-American conference.

As for the Badgers, the roster will be made up of some very strong names from the past. The headline names include members of the back-to-back Final Four teams in Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown. Also joining will be Jordan Taylor, Ryan Evans, Trevon Hughes and recent grad Charles Thomas. You can see the full roster here.

The regionals will take place July 19-21 in Columbus with the winner of this regional meeting seven other winners in Chicago for championship week.

All games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, so you should be able to find them either streaming or on cable television.

Kohl Blooded vs. Mid-American Unity will tip at 1pm ET on Friday, July 19.

The winner will take on the winner of Red Scare (Dayton alumni) and The Region (players from Northwest Indiana) in the regional semi-final the next day.

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Badgers play final card in attempt to land 2020 G Johnny Davis

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A week after losing out on Joey and Sam Hauser, the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program needs some positive momentum on the player acquisition front.

With three scholarships available in the 2020 class and two top in-state players in their sites, the Badgers coaching staff has been about as patient as possible.

On Wednesday, Badger247 reports that UW has offered Jordan Davis, the twin brother of top target Johnny Davis. It’s not a walk-on or grayshirt, but a full scholarship offer.

After two years of waiting for that offer to come, it finally did.

Jordan is an unranked player in basketball at this time, but I expect that to change once the scouting services catch wind of this offer. Johnny Davis is the No. 131 ranked player in the country, a 4-star rated prospect and the No. 3 ranked player in the state of Wisconsin in the 2020 class.

With the brothers set to make a weekend visit for team camp in two weeks, this is a move that undoubtably puts the pressure squarely on Johnny Davis at this point.

Simply put, the Badgers need to know if Davis is going to commit or if they need to move on.

Offering Jordan a full ride is about the only thing left in the Badgers quiver at this point. If getting the dream of playing basketball together at the same school and in-state no less doesn’t tip the scales, at least the Badgers know they can move on.

Is it a desperate move? In some ways one could see it as such. Clearly the Badgers want Johnny in a major way and they see offering Jordan as a critical move that could separate themselves from the competition.

However, this also isn’t a coaching staff willing to just throw away a scholarship in an effort to get a coveted player to play for them. That’s simply not Greg Gard’s style.

Jordan is also a player they see as a contributor, or he wasn’t getting an offer. Plain and simple.

There’s no doubt that this move ups the pressure, like I mentioned before. But, that’s not a bad thing, as UW needs to know where they stand heading in to July’s evaluation period.

If the Davis brothers can’t commit or at least internally give the coaching staff the information that will make them feel comfortable, they need to start getting offers out to other big time players whom they’ve been waiting to offer.

Consider UW is an underdog to land in-state five-star prospect Jalen Johnson, and you have to consider this move a smart one for the long term prospects of the 2020 class.

Will the Davis twins jump at the offer to play together at Wisconsin?

Some in the recruiting world believe this was the situation that was holding Wisconsin back all along. So, don’t be surprised to see this affect the recruitment of both players in a big way.

As for Jordan, his game has also caught the attention of Iowa and Minnesota and he did have scholarship offers from both Green Bay and Milwaukee prior to this one.

What may have really held the Badgers coaching staff and others back was the fact that Jordan is also a good player on the football side and wasn’t sure which sport he wanted to pick.

It seems like UW has gotten the clue that Jordan may be more receptive to a basketball future and pulled the trigger on the offer.

We’ll see how much longer the two stay uncommitted, but don’t be surprised to see something happen following July’s AAU season.

Letting that play out and getting all the offers out there on the table is just a smart move for the twins. From there, it’s up to them and clearly the Badgers have left no stone unturned in this situation.

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