Wisconsin Basketball: 2022-23 Season Preview
Madison, Wis. – Last season, media pundits quickly wrote off Greg Gard and the inexperienced Wisconsin Badgers, selecting them to finish 10th in the Big Ten preseason polls – a prediction that, in the end, couldn’t have been more wrong.
UW went on to win the Big Ten regular-season title, their second in three years, by doing what they do best: Taking high-percentage shots, not turning the ball over, playing disciplined defense, and getting to the free-throw line more than their opponents
It also didn’t hurt having the Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-American, Johnny Davis giving everyone buckets.
2021-’22 Season Performance
- Record: 25-8 (15-5)
- KenPom Team Rating: No. 37
- NET Rating: #25
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (R32)
For more than two decades, Wisconsin has been a recruit-and-develop program. One that’s heavily reliant on internal options stepping up and filling the gaps when major contributors exhaust their eligibility – and they’ve done a pretty damn good job of winning basketball games along the way.
Yet, nobody wants to believe in the Wisconsin Badgers until they see it for themselves.
Over the past 15 seasons, UW has started the year unranked in the AP Top 25 poll six times. In five of those six instances, the Badgers finished the season ranked. Fast forward to 2022-23, and Wisconsin is projected to finish in the bottom third of the league (9th) – which isn’t shocking whatsoever.
It has gotten to the point that being underestimated and proving the doubters wrong has become a rite of passage for the Wisconsin men’s basketball program.
Wisconsin Offseason Exits
The Wisconsin basketball mantra is to get old and stay old. And anyone who watched UW last season knows that couldn’t have been further from their reality. In fact, the 2021-22 team was the youngest and most inexperienced Greg Gard has coached during his tenure.
Needing to capitalize on his breakout sophomore season, Johnny Davis declared for the NBA draft and wound up being selected in the lottery by the Washington Wizards (go get them checks, Johnny). A foundational piece of the program gone after just two seasons – which is damn near uncharted territory for the Badgers.
In addition to losing a first-team All-American, Wisconsin will be without its Ironman, Brad Davison. He was second-team All-Big Ten last season and finished as the program’s all-time leader in career three-pointers/charges taken. The Minnesota natives shooting, tenacity, and leadership will be missed.
And if those weren’t big enough holes to fill, the reigning Big Ten regular season champions also lost their top three reserves in Chris Vogt (this one is big), Ben Carlson, and Lorne Bowman – leaving the rotation in flux heading into the new season.
As we’re beginning to learn, the portal giveth, and the portal taketh away. College basketball has more ebbs and flows than ever before due to the implementation of the one-time transfer rule, and it’s about striking a balance.
Coach Gard knew he needed to find some plug-and-play options to keep pace with the rest of the Big Ten – and he brought in two rock-solid players to fill the gaps on the roster.
Wofford transfer Max Klesmit comes to UW with two years of experience and immediately slots into the starting shooting guard spot vacated by Davison. He’s an in-state kid that provides toughness on defense and can space the floor with his shooting. He’s a perfect fit, and he joins the program with two-plus years of eligibility remaining.
The second addition Wisconsin made came in the form of a backup point guard – offsetting the departure of Lorne Bowman. UW-Green Bay transfer Kamari McGee left the Phoenix after making a splash in the Horizon League as a true freshman. He brings energy, defensive prowess, and playmaking ability, making him an excellent fit running the second unit. He joins the program with three years of eligibility remaining.
Reasons for Optimism
A lot of the offseason chatter surrounding Wisconsin basketball understandably focused on the players who departed. In my opinion, the most substantial reason for optimism comes from the core players that ARE returning in 2022-23.
UW returns 41.1% of its points, 46.5% of its rebounds, 50.1% of its assists, and 37.6% of made three-point field goals – which isn’t a lot, but there are obvious candidates to take on a more significant workload.
Led by the trio of Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl, who were named preseason All-Big Ten selections, and Steven Crowl – Wisconsin returns one of the most formidable returning big three’s in the conference – which is a hell of a place to start.
Nobody can replace Davis’ scoring by themselves; he was the Big Ten Player of the Year for a reason. That said, UW has a strong foundation, with several complimentary pieces on the roster ready to take a bigger bite of the apple.
If Wisconsin’s core players can take a step forward, and a few others can carve out consistent roles – I think UW will surprise some people.
How does UW replace the scoring?
Without Johnny Davis and Brad Davison, Wisconsin loses 46.6% of its scoring from a year ago, but the big question is, how will it function without an All-American leading the charge?
My answer probably won’t excite you, but I expect Wisconsin’s offense to be a well-balanced, committee approach – much we’ve seen in the past.
UW’s formula for winning games will remain the same as its always been. Don’t over-dribble, move the ball, find the open man, touch the post, play inside-out and set up open threes.
Hepburn and Wahl are the most logical options to take a noticeable step forward and become stalwarts for UW’s offense to lean on heavily this season. Add in a sprinkle of Big Steve on the low block and perimeter shooting from Max Klesmit and Jordan Davis, and the Badgers should be in good shape.
There are also several intriguing high-upside rotational pieces like Connor Essegian and Markus Ilver that could raise this team’s ceiling if everything breaks right.
Wisconsin’s offense could be better than it was last season – at least from an efficiency standpoint.
According to KenPom, the Badges finished with an adjusted offensive efficiency ranking of No. 62 – which is slightly worse than Wisconsin’s seven-year average (56.8 Adj. O) during the Greg Gard era.
Davis was a high-usage, ball-dominant wing player that didn’t have terrific shooting splits. Which begs the question, can Wisconsin’s offense improve by returning to a more systematic offensive approach?
It’s certainly possible, and it’ll be fascinating to watch it play out on the court.
Greatest area of concern
During the offseason, coach Gard swung and missed on several big men in the transfer portal, leaving UW’s frontcourt extremely thin entering 2022-23.
Listen, there is no Chris Vogt walking through that door to help anchor Wisconsin’s defense and provide stability off the pine. Redshirt freshman Chris Hodges is the lone big man behind Crowl, and he hasn’t played in a meaningful basketball game since his junior year of high school.
In a conference dominated by big men, relying on an inexperienced player like Hodges isn’t ideal. He is strong, athletic, and should make an impact as a rebounder – but offensively, he’s still very raw.
Coach Gard will undoubtedly mask this deficiency by playing positionless basketball as often as possible and utilizing the team’s defensive versatility.
That said, this is a glaring weakness I expect conference opponents to exploit.
Realistic Team Goals
The Wisconsin Badgers were picked to finish 9th in the league, which is laughable.
It may take a little while for UW to settle into their new roles and find their way – but come conference play – I anticipate the Badgers being a top 4-6 team that pushes for a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament.
Wisconsin is comfortably going dancing for the seventh time in eight seasons under Greg Gard – you can take that to the bank.
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