Entering this season, expectations for Wisconsin basketball were sky-high. After returning every single member of their rotation from the previous season’s Sweet 16 run, the assumption was that this team would contend for the Big Ten Title, a Final Four berth and a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So far, they are meeting those expectations. While they don’t have a marquee win yet, they also have no remotely bad losses, giving them a 20-3 record and two-game cushion in the Big Ten title race. The performance and expectations of the team have led many to compare them to the 2014-15 squad that went 36-4 and made it to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament. Curious to see how the two teams stacked up, I compared them to each other.
The current Wisconsin Basketball team is averaging 74.6 points per game, which is actually higher than the 2014-15 team, which averaged only 71.9 points per game. In fact, Wisconsin is currently scoring more points per game than in any season since 1993-1994. But don’t let the stats fool you. The 2014-15 team was vastly superior on offense. Overall scoring is way up as a whole in college basketball, and the 2014-15 had to deal with a 35 second shot clock.
The 2014-15 team still holds the record for the most efficient offense in the KenPom era. All five of their starters were good three-point shooters, with the worst of them being Sam Dekker at 33%. They also played around Frank Kaminsky, who is one of the most efficient shooting big men in college basketball history. To make matters worse for opponents, Wisconsin was exceptional from the free throw line (76 percent) and took great care of the ball, resulting in the top offensive turnover percentage in the country.
This current Wisconsin Basketball team isn’t bad offensively by any means. They rank 30th in the country in KenPom offensive efficiency, which is certainly respectable. They just aren’t close to the 2014-15 team. One reason for that is that they aren’t as good from beyond the arc. They also don’t have the same spacing. Ethan Happ is tremendous. Nobody’s denying that, and when it’s all said and done, he may be considered the greatest Badger ever. But having a 7-footer that hit a prolific percentage of his three-pointers in Frank Kaminsky resulted in great floor spacing for the Badgers. Happ, who struggles outside the paint, clogs the lane for drivers and other post players.
The third reason why this version of the Badgers aren’t nearly as good offensively is their free throw shooting and sloppiness with the ball. Wisconsin’s free throw shooting is their Achilles heel, and will likely cost them a game or two at some point in the season. Every game, they leave tons of free points at the line, as they only connect on 66% of their free throws, good for 279th in the country. Unfortunately, that problem doesn’t seem to be fixable. Happ and Nigel Hayes draw the most fouls on the team by a long shot, but both struggle from the line.
Turnovers on the other hand, can be fixed. Wisconsin turns it over on roughly 17.2% of their positions. For the average team, that is a great rate. It ranks in the top-70 nationally. But for a team with Final Fours goals, especially one that has made ball security a staple of their program for the last decade, that needs to get better.
As good as the 2014-15 Badgers were, they didn’t defend very well…for UW standards. They only ranked 38th in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency. That was often masked by their outstanding offense, but at times, like in the national championship game, it really hurt them.
This Wisconsin team is much better defensively. They ranked seventh in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency, and it is easy to see why. The Badgers have good size at every position except shooting guard, but Zak Showalter’s athleticism and energy more than make up for that. Forward Nigel Hayes is one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten. He is long, agile, and versatile enough to guard both post players and wings. Ethan Happ ranks second in the Big Ten in steals and 10th in blocks, while Showalter is fourth in steals.
The Badgers don’t lose their defensive intensity when they go to the bench either. Guards Jordan Hill and Brevin Pritzl are extremely quick and move their feet very well. Forward Charlie Thomas has the size to bang with any big man in the country. Khalil Iverson is a future Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. His close-out ability is breathtaking.
In Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s outstanding team defense has won them a lot of games even when their shots weren’t falling. While the 2014-15 team relied on their offensive ability, the current team gets things done on defense.
Both the current Wisconsin Basketball team and the 2014-15 were excellent defensive rebounding teams. The 2014-15 was the second best team in the country on the defensive glass, while the current one sits at 10th. However, on the offensive glass, the current Wisconsin team has the clear advantage. They rank in the top 10 in the country in offensive rebound rate, while the 2014-15 team barely cracked the top 60.
That is a double-edge sword though. The 2014-15 team wasn’t great on the offensive glass because they didn’t care to be. Instead, they got back on defense and prevented transition looks. The current Wisconsin team surrenders a little bit of that transition defense prowess in exchange for some second chances.
Both teams are/were extremely talented, and consist of the same general makeup. Bronson Koenig was the point guard for most of the 2014-15 season, and is now an improved version of himself on this team. The same goes for Nigel Hayes. Despite the fact that his shooting is worse, he is more experienced, more consistent, a better passer, and a much better defender than he used to be.
Both teams are also led by a star center. Happ can’t shoot like Kaminsky could, but Kaminsky couldn’t defend and handle the ball like Happ can. In fact, you could argue that Happ is just as, if not more important to his team than Kaminsky was to the 2014-15 Badgers. Happ leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks during Big Ten play, and he’s a contender to be a first-team All-American, so he’s not that far off from Kaminsky.
The two teams also have a great glue playing shooting guard. Showalter plays with great energy, can defend, and makes big plays, but it is just hard to place him on the same level as Gasser. Gasser was just on a different level as a glue guy. He got every single loose ball. Literally, every single one. He also shot better and made less “boneheaded” plays than Showy. But Showalter is still a great glue guy.
The biggest difference in the starting lineup comes from Sam Dekker vs Vitto Brown. Yeah, that’s not even a contest.
The 2014-15 team only had thee regular bench players. Duje Dukan, Bronson Koenig/Traevon Jackson, and Zak Showalter. But they were extremely quality players. Dukan was a great offensive weapon off the bench, Koenig went on to be a reliable starter, and Showalter was a terrific spark plug.
Meanwhile, this current Wisconsin teams has up to seven guys that could see time off the bench. Jordan Hill, D’Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson, Charles Thomas, Alex Illikainen, Brevin Pritzl, and Aaron Moesch have all seen playing time in close games this season. However, none of the seven are very consistent, and their performance fluctuates by a game-to-game basis. So while this team is “deeper”, the 2014-15 team had more reliable substitutes.
This current Wisconsin team is very good. They can certainly make the Final Four. But they aren’t as good as the 2014-15 Badgers team. However, that isn’t a fair bar. The Wisconsin program may never see a team as good as that one again. But that doesn’t mean this team isn’t good enough to achieve all the same goals.
A better comparison for this current Wisconsin team might actually be the 2011-12 Wisconsin Basketball team. That team had an overall KenPom ranking of 8th, a defensive efficiency ranking of 7th, and an offensive efficiency ranking of 25th. This current team is 11th, 7th, and 30th respectively. While it isn’t as sexy as being compared to the 2014-15 team, the 2011-12 team was pretty good too. They earned a four-seed and were one point away from beating one-seeded Syracuse in the Elite Eight.
Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class
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.
Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class
It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.
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.
Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class
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.
Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks
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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