WSUM Sports Roundtable: After disappointment last year, is Badgers Men's Basketball ready to excite again?

  • Post Author
    by Sports director
  • Post Date
    Mon Nov 06 2023

By: WSUM Sports Team

Wisconsin's Carter Gilmore (14) dunks the ball late in the second half as the Wisconsin Badgers play the Stanford Cardinals during a men's basketball game held on a temporary court installed in the infield of American Family Field in Milwaukee, Wis., on Veterans Day Nov. 11, 2022. The Badgers won the game, 60-50. The doubleheader event, known as Brew City Battle, is the first time that American Family Field, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, has been transformed from baseball diamond into a unique basketball venue inside the stadium. (Photo by Taylor Wolfram / UW–Madison)

The long offseason is finally over: the University of Wisconsin men's basketball season kicks off tonight against Arkansas State. The Badgers are looking to shake off the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in the past 25 seasons and playing on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time ever in the current format.

They qualified for the NIT last year, losing in the semifinals to eventual champion North Texas, but also bring in a near-10 minute scoring drought into the season.

So, how confident are you headed into the season? Where does Wisconsin finish in the conference this year? Should Greg Gard be worried about his job? Find out all this and more in the latest WSUM Sports Roundtable.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you in Wisconsin men's basketball heading into the 2023-24 season?

Sitting at about an 8 right now. I am not crazy excited to see the difficulty of their schedule, but this roster is objectively better than last year's. St. John's transfer AJ Storr's addition to the team changes this team's outlook tremendously as he adds sorely-needed athleticism at the wing. Being a 40% shooter from 3 last year doesn't hurt either. Wisconsin returns the highest percentage of scoring among Big Ten teams and lost eight games last season by five points or fewer. Something is bound to bounce their way. -Joey Bonadonna

I would give it a 7, but that number could receive a large boost if the Badgers are able to upset No. 9 Tennessee in an early season showdown at the Kohl Center. Regardless, there's plenty of reason for optimism with this team. The entire starting five returns and the hope would be that a healthy Tyler Wahl helps them return to their form from the non-conference slate last year. Add in the four newcomers, and this is one of the deepest teams to play at the Kohl Center in years. -Evan Schmid

I'm sitting at a high 7 or low 8. The Badgers have an incredible amount of talent on the team but it is really about how they play together as a team and how Greg Gard uses his assets. -Dani Savin

I would say 7 is a good starting point. Wisconsin is a good team, but if they can convert offensively from beyond the arc like they are capable of, thry will be a high contender for March Madness this year. -Camryn Fjelstad

Is a 9 too aggressive? Probably, but optimism is usually at an all-time high when the year begins. I'm prepared to have it knocked down a few pegs as the season begins, especially considering the tough schedule to start the year. That being said, this is a team that only got better this offseason. They return their entire starting five, plus added an impact transfer and a very talented freshman class to help fill some of the gaps. The arrow is pointing up for this team. -Anthony Winker

Which Badger newcomer are you most excited about heading into the season?

Storr is the obvious pick, and Gus Yalden is the most-hyped freshman of this class. However, I am excited to see what John Blackwell can do during his career. A 6-foot-4, defensive-minded three-level scorer has the makeup to be the prototypical Wisconsin backcourt player. While the backcourt is pretty loaded with experience and minutes will be hard to come by, I think some minutes can be carved out for him in a much deeper rotation. -Joey Bonadonna

After the Red/White scrimmage, AJ Storr and Nolan Winter may be trending picks, but I'll stick to freshman forward Gus Yalden. A talented prep player whose recruiting ranking suffered a bit due to injury, his commitment was seen as the prize of Wisconsin's 2023 recruiting class. Additionally, if you were to pick an area where the Badgers needed depth, it would be the frontcourt. It will be interesting to see whether either of the freshmen are able to push Carter Gilmore for minutes off the bench. -Evan Schmid

I am most excited about freshman Gus Yalden, given his status as a top-100 recruit in the country; he has so much potential. The obvious option would be AJ Storr, for sure, as he was a 2022-2023 All-Big East Freshman selection, with a respectable 40.4% clip from deep. That will be a super cool feature alongside returning sharpshooter Connor Essegian. -Dani Savin

Gus Bus is going to be a big contender if he plays up to his abilities. He is a playmaker on offense and is good on defense as well. I think him alongside Chucky Hepburn, Essegian, and Klesmit would be a great experience for him to adjust to the way the Badgers play, and he could be a crucial factor in our success in the post. -Camryn Fjelstad

If no one else will do it, I will. The St. John's transfer AJ Storr is going to bring a level of athleticism to this offense that was lacking last year with the departure of Johnny Davis. I mean, did you see that alley-oop finish in the Red-White scrimmage? He's able to score, and he could potentially be in line for a close to Johnny Davis-level sophomore leap.  -Anthony Winker

Which returning player are you most excited about?

I have always been a big proponent of Steven Crowl. When he's at his best, he can be an all-conference performer in the Big Ten. However, he's lacked some consistency at the rim over his career with the Badgers. When we spoke with him at local media day, he said getting stronger and improving his shooting were his two biggest priorities this offseason. If both of those pay off and he becomes a more confident and consistent scorer, look out for a big season for Big Steve. -Joey Bonadonna

Steven Crowl had an impressive showing in the NIT tournament. He puts up pretty impressive numbers and each year, he has progressively improved so he will be hitting his stride. He's not just tall, he can actually play basketball. -Shannon Maynes

Tyler Wahl will be an All Big-Ten caliber of player this year. I have always been sky-high on his potential, and especially early in the season last year, he looked as though he may be able to fulfill it. A talented on the block scorer should benefit from improved floor spacing and look to be a part of another strong team. -Evan Schmid

I am most excited to see Connor Essegian back on the court after his explosive freshman season. After being just the fifth Badger over the last 25 years to average double figures in their freshman season, averaging 11.7 points per game, it is exciting to see how his work in the off season will contribute to this season. -Dani Savin

Connor Essegian is going to showcase his strength from the 3 again this year. He is a playmaker and I think he will be a big factor on offense for the Badgers. Chucky Hepburn is the same way, I think with his clutch type of play he will be a deciding factor to a deep run into a successful season and playoff run. -Camryn Fjelstad

Let's go with the point guard Chucky Hepburn. The team is so much better with him on the floor and if he could improve his shot selection, he is a weapon offensively. Last season, the three-point shooting percentage took a big jump and he proved he could lead the offense in the NIT against Liberty. If Hepburn can continue his upward trajectory this season, the Badgers will be a tough team to play against that can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. -Anthony Winker

How hot is Greg Gard's seat after missing the tournament last season?

Pretty cool. I think the “Fire Gard” crowd is just a tad too reactionary for my liking. Greg Gard is still a successful college basketball coach and the outlook on the future is bright for this program. After losing a full senior lineup and Johnny Davis in the last two seasons before last, the scholarship distribution has been thrown off. He's about to get this team back on track in a big way. Firing Gard would put all of that in the garbage. I'd still be upset if this team doesn't make the tournament but there's more at stake than this season. -Joey Bonadonna

I'd say it's about to set fire. The team last year wrapped up their season with an incredibly frustrating 56-54 loss to North Texas in the NIT. Unless Greg Gard pulls out some big wins in the first part of the 2023-2024 season and the Badgers come out hot with a strong showing, there will definitely be some conversations about his place in the coaching staff. -Dani Savin

It is no lie that he is in the hot seat. Gard has had his good seasons, but like Paul Chyrst, if he doesn't pull it together soon, the Badgers will no doubt try to find a better option for a coach that can bring the team back to a deep run in the playoffs. -Camryn Fjelstad

I think it is relatively cool. It is definitely more of a question than it was a year ago, but it's easy to forget that Gard has led the Badgers to two of the last four Big Ten titles. Additionally, a strong relationship with high priority 2025-commit Daniel Freitag makes it very unlikely that Gard is not the coach next season. A tournament appearance would certainly help his case, but I think any calls for Gard's job are a little outlandish. -Evan Schmid

Cold. Sure, fans would like to see deeper runs in the NCAA Tournament, but Greg Gard is a darn good basketball coach that Wisconsin is lucky to have. Gard has won two of the past four regular season Big Ten titles and they have a couple of intriguing recruits coming in the next couple seasons. If Wisconsin finishes top-4 in the Big Ten, like I think they can, Gard should feel even more comfortable than he does now. -Anthony Winker

Who is your preseason pick to win the Big Ten title? Where do you see Wisconsin landing in the standings?

My pick is Michigan State. The consensus media opinion (outside this roundtable) seems to be Purdue, but I love the overall talent MSU returns this season, plus a very impressive freshman class as well. I trust Tom Izzo over any Big Ten coach, including Matt Painter. As for Wisconsin, I think they're capable of being a top five team in the league. I currently have them at fifth (behind MSU, Purdue, Illinois and Maryland) but they could exceed that into the top three. Or they could disappoint me greatly and finish in the bottom 4 again. Anarchy? Nope. Just College Basketball. -Joey Bonadonna

My preseason pick to win the Big Ten title is definitely Michigan State. In terms of where Wisconsin lands, it is too soon to tell. A lot of talent definitely transferred in/has been cultivated over the summer so I'd say hopefully top 10. Ideally, they will be in the top five but those are far reaching thoughts right now. -Dani Savin

I think the Michigan State Spartans will be the best bet to win the Big Ten this year. They are a playmaking team and once they get going, they are merely unstoppable. The Spartans have a good lineup this year with a good amount of talent, and that is a big part of the reason that they can take the Big Ten Championship this year. -Camryn Fjelstad

I believe Michigan State is the team to beat in the Big Ten, but it's not out of the question that Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois are able to be in the mix. Obviously, with Zach Edey returning to Purdue, they will be a solid team, but it is hard to get the Tournament loss to Fairleigh Dickinson out of your head. -Evan Schmid

Until a team can figure out how to effectively defend Zach Edey, Purdue is the team to beat in the Big Ten. The rest of the team surrounding Edey lacks true stars, but any one of those guys can carry the load offensively if called upon and they do one thing that is needed when your team plays Zach Edey: space the floor. Maybe they'll get over that NCAA Tournament hump eventually, where they will surely field lots of questions about last year's very early exit, but in the regular season, they should be ok. -Anthony Winker

BONUS: When will the Big Ten end their long national title drought?

As we've seen in recent years, March is where chaos happens. So it's hard to predict who wins a national championship this early in the season. But I really think Michigan State has a legitimate shot this year. If not them, the new additions from the PAC-12 will help them in their search. UCLA is a team that is always typically good in March and USC has become a dominant power in the NIL/recruiting game. -Joey Bonadonna

If the Badgers continue to build with the use of the transfer portal like it did this past season, I could totally see it happening for them in the next four years. -Dani Savin

Take a peek at Rutgers' 2024 recruiting class. Give Steve Pikiell another year to build depth, and this team could be looking to set some records. If a team from the Big Ten is gonna break this drought in the near future, I'd hedge my bets that it will be them. -Evan Schmid

The drought can end once a team who has “nothing to lose” goes to win it. When you look back at the Badgers team in 2015, they were kind of under-looked in my eyes, and I think that when you get a team like that out of the Big Ten, that is what can make or break a team in my book. They were not supposed to win in the Final Four against Kentucky, but when they did and proved everyone wrong, that is the kind of mindset you need to have and that is why the small schools upset the Power 5 schools. Once a Big Ten school gets that mindset, that is when you will succeed and beat the so-called “better teams”. -Camryn Fjelstad

Let's be bold. I think this is the year. The conference has two teams that should be early Final Four favorites in Michigan State and Purdue, and you have to figure that one of them will get over that hump and at least get to Phoenix. Honestly, Wisconsin is a team that could surprise some people in March I think as well. The other big part about this is the conference is not nearly as deep as it has been in year's past. I don't think the conference will cannibalize itself like it has recently which will allow for some more favorable paths for its top teams. The tournament is a crapshoot, but I'll say it turns out in the Big Ten's favor this year. -Anthony Winker

Note: This roundtable was written before the news that Gus Yalden would be taking some time away from the team for personal reasons.

Contributors: Joey Bonadonna, Evan Schmid, Dani Savin, Camryn Fjelstad, Shannon Maynes, Anthony Winker