The Wisconsin men’s basketball program is going to look immensely different in 2021. Gone are five members of Greg Gard’s eight-man rotation from a year ago. D’Mitrik Trice, Micah Potter, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford, and Trevor Anderson accounted for 71% of the teams total points scored and 3,597 minutes that now need to be filled.
The graduating class left their mark on the program for innumerable reasons – most notably for their unprecedented run that led to a share of the Big Ten title in 2020. Their experience and leadership are going to be missed – the adversity they were forced to overcome, coupled with the success they shared won’t soon be forgotten. On the bright side, the program has a large group of young players that were able to learn from them and study their winning habits – hoping to translate that into success of their own.
Their departures have created a unique opportunity for Greg Gard and the program to pivot and operate from a clean slate – something I think all parties involved could benefit from.
Of the 17 players on the roster, including walk-ons, 12 are first- or second-year players. From that group, Jonathan Davis is the only one who has played more than 64 career minutes for the Badgers.
The returning members of last year’s rotation are: Guard – Brad Davison, Wing – Jonathan Davis, and Forward – Tyler Wahl. All three players are expected to be starters, and assume larger roles. Beyond that there are no certainties on this roster. What was once a senior laden team, is now an inexperienced roster with minutes available at seemingly every position on the floor. The identity of this year’s team is a complete unknown – and will ultimately be decided by how the new nucleus of players mesh together.
The program however isn’t without talented young players ready to step into the vacated playing time. The last two recruiting classes were both on the larger side and will help usher in a new era of Wisconsin badger basketball.
Big men Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl are two talented young players that should be fixtures in the big man rotation this season – along with Cincinnati transfer Chris Vogt. Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson are both skilled big’s that can put the ball on the deck and stretch defenses with their shooting. Vogt should help fill an immediate need as a big bodied defender that can play around the basket and have touches manufactured for him down on the block – not to mention he has a lot of experience and should provide insight for the younger players as they grown into their new roles.
Then there’s the position battle I’m most excited to watch unfold – the battle for minutes at point guard. Both players who logged minutes at the position a year ago are no longer with the program – thus leaving the door wide open for all three scholarship point guards to vie for time. Chucky Hepburn, Lorne Bowman, and Wake Forest transfer Jahcobi Neath all bring something completely different to the table – and can impact the game in different ways. Chucky Hepburn is more of a traditional point guard with obvious leadership skills, while Lorne Bowman is an athletic slasher type that has a deadly mid-range jumper and capable of playing either guard spot. Jahcobi Neath is a hyper athletic guard who is also capable of playing either guard spot and has some proven play-making ability at the high major level – he’ll be an intriguing player to monitor.
There are also several other internal options that have put in the work for expanded opportunity, such as new scholarship Forward – Carter Gilmore and Guard – Jordan Davis. Carter Gilmore earned a scholarship after one season as a walk-on and has been someone Coach Gard has spoken highly of – he has a high basketball IQ and provides versatility as a forward with guard skills. Jordan Davis is a hard-nosed defender who can stretch the floor as a knockdown shooter. A 3-and-D guard is something every coach wishes they had more of – it’s just going to come down to how far he’s come in his development from last season.
The program also had a strong 2021 recruiting class outside of Chucky Hepburn – consisting of Forward – Matthew Mors, Forward – Markus Ilver and Big man – Chris Hodges. Mors is someone I expect to figure into the rotation from day one, while Ilver and Hodges might stand to benefit from a red-shirt year. There is no shortage of players that could step up and earn minutes – and with so many contenders for playing time, you can rest assured that competition will bring out the best in everyone.
What this team lacks in experience, they more than make up for in versatility. Greg Gard has assembled a roster of players that are capable of playing more than one position. Which leads me to believe the badgers identity will once again come on the defensive end of the floor. They have the personnel to match up with most any roster construction on defense. They have the big men to match up against a more traditional lineup – and also have enough versatile guards/tweener forwards to go small without having to deviate from their defensive game-plan.
Offensively the badgers are going to have to heavily rely on the development of returning players. I fully expect the Jonathan Davis era to begin this season (please temper your expectations just a little) – and we know what we have in Brad Davison as an outside shooter. Who steps up and assumes the offensive responsibility behind them is a mystery at this point – but there are intriguing options.
This is the perfect opportunity for the program to usher in a new era of badger basketball. At the moment there may be more questions than answers, but those things always seem to sort themselves out. Be patient with the growth process because this roster may be young, but certainly not devoid of talent.
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