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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

Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class

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Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.

First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.

The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.

“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.

“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”

But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.

Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.

Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.

The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.

Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.

With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.

Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.

It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.

Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.

It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.

Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.

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Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class

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It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.

A day after forward Steven Crowl committed, we now have word that top target Ben Carlson, a fellow Minnesota native, has committed to the Badgers as well.

The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.

Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.

Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.

He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.

It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.

“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”

“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”

Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.

It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.

Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.

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Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class

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What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.

He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.

Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.

However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.

Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.

This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.

While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.

The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.

With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.

When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.

However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.

It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.

He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.

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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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