The mantra of the program “Get old, stay old” is going to die, at least in the short term. Badger fans are in no danger of seeing the Wisconsin starting lineup being older then the Bulls graphic this year. Wisconsin enters the season with an average age of just 19.5 years old, and will deploy a roster consisting of 12 underclassmen. Which is a far cry from the badger teams we’ve grown accustomed to watching.
The position group that’s undergone the largest overhaul would be none other than the primary ball handlers. The badgers will be looking to replace 1,441 minutes that were vacated by seniors D’Mitrik Trice and Trevor Anderson – which is no small feat.
On the bright side, the cupboards are far from empty. The badgers have some intriguing in house options – they are however, vastly inexperienced. Lets meet the candidates..
Chucky Hepburn may be the most decorated player in the class of 2021, and for good reason. While it may be a significant ask, Chucky Hepburn is who I expect to land the starting point guard role from day one. Hepburn takes care of the basketball, he’s a creative play-maker, plays quick but always under control, and most importantly he’s a gritty on ball defender. His on-court maturity and poise seem to be ahead of the curve for a true freshman.
Hepburn was a priority recruit for Greg Gard and is a seemingly perfect fit for the badgers. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he isn’t playing a significant role for Wisconsin from day one. Hepburn’s selflessness will help the young roster around them find their roles on offense.
Like any freshman there will be an adjustment period, but he’s proven to be a willing student of the game. I’d expect Hepburn to show flashes of the special player many feel he’ll become, while improving as the year wears on. He’s a traditional “pass first” point guard and is the best bet to orchestrate coach Gard’s system on offense.
Wake Forest transfer Jahcobi Neath was brought in to fill a void as a point guard with some much-needed experience. In two seasons at Wake Forest, Neath averaged 4.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 2 assists in 50 games (9 starts) for the Deacons.
Neath fits the role of a play-making combo guard more than that of a traditional point guard. He’s posted decent assist rates in his career but has struggled some with turnovers which won’t be tolerated at Wisconsin. Some of the uneven play for Neath could be explained by the coaching change in year two and his role/system changing under the new staff.
At 6’4” and 200 pounds, Neath is well built and a strong finisher at the rim – although he’s just a 34% shooter from beyond the arc. What Neath excels at, however, is his play-making ability. He’s able to work well in the pick & roll to get by defenders and create for his teammates. Neath has good court vision and uses his size to seal defenders in order to make plays for his teammates. At times he pounds the ball too much in effort to create which can kill floor spacing. Neath is more than capable of playing either guard spot and because of this I anticipate him playing an immediate role off the bench. His presence should allow Wisconsin to play three guard lineups more often.
Look for Neath to be one of the team’s most valuable reserves this season.
After taking a leave of absence as a true freshman, Bowman is back with the program and working his way back into playing shape. The time away from basketball might be the only thing keeping him from making an immediate impact for the badgers, although I expect his opportunity to come due to his level of talent and play-making ability.
Lorne Bowman just plays the game at a different speed. Bowman has a suddenness to him and can break a defender down to get to the basket. His quickness will be an asset on both ends of the floor. Bowman also has a lethal mid-range game and respectable shot from deep that I’d expect to continually improve. Either way his shooting ability has to be respected, which gives him the leg up when he’s able to draw defenders away from the basket.
Bowman is definitely in the hunt for back-court minutes, but could be at a slight disadvantage due to the time away from basketball. Once he gets back up to speed he could very well figure into the rotation and fight for minutes at either guard spot.
While all three guards are firmly in the mix to earn playing time, my expectation is we’ll see Hepburn as the starter with one of Neath or Bowman backing him up and playing minutes as a combo guard. At present, I lean Neath as the top guard reserve due to his size, play-making ability, and experience. In due time I expect Bowman to force his way onto the court but for now he’s got some rust to shake off.
This trio is young, talented, and full of play-makers. As they get some experience under their belt I think this group could be really productive for the badgers. They’ll take their lumps in a difficult Big Ten this season, but the experience moving forward will pave the way for future success. Don’t be surprised if all three guards make an impact this season.
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