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Grading Wisconsin’s starters after non-conference play

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Who’s up, who’s down, and who’s the surprise?

NCAA Basketball: Central Arkansas at Wisconsin
Spoiler: Ethan Happ is very good.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

After a bumpy ride through Omaha and Maui, the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers seem as if they righted themselves. An 11-2 non-conference schedule included glorious domination of schools on the second game of a back-to-back to two of last year’s Final Four teams. So for discussion and fun, I’m going to grade players on their start. In part two, we discuss the rest of the rotation.

[Ed. note: Please note all stats are from non-conference play, not including Tuesday night’s 72-52 conference-opening victory over Rutgers.]

Good news: I’m not going to aim to get hate sent, but there are ground rules.

First, I’m not going to cover everybody. There are five players out of the rotation where it seems like their time is not this year. Incomplete grades just make this longer, and that’s no good for anybody.

Two, I’m not out to bring a ruckus. There will be no hot takes.

Starters

F Nigel Hayes: B-plus

Through the first six games, the Nigel Hayes that had the shooting yips was back and worse than ever. Shooting nine for 31 from beyond the arc (a scintillating 29 percent), and taking more threes than twos will do that — but he’s reassessed his game after Maui, and it’s made the Badgers so much better. He’s shooting about 60 percent since the North Carolina game, and considering that he shot more threes than twos before Thanksgiving, a ratio of 58 twos to six three-point baskets is heartening. With the versatile non-shooting skills Hayes has if Hayes keeps this up — he’s going to be a first round draft choice.

G Bronson Koenig: B

You have a point guard who’s fourth on the team in assists. You have a shooter who’s up to 56.7 percent from inside the arc and is doubling up the next-highest shooter in three point attempts. He’s also 20 of his first 22 from the line and his free throw rate is way down. He’s honestly been better as an off-ball two guard where he doesn’t have to lead the team. He’s definitely been inconsistent. I waxed and waned about throwing on the minus here, but the three pointers are a byproduct of not shooting so many long twos and like Hayes, he’s been mostly his best self since Maui. He’s still inconsistent, but he’s had an assist to turnover ratio north of three-to-one since Maui. This can improve.

G Zak Showalter: B

Showalter is the steady guy in the backcourt. He’ll contribute two to four baskets, one from three. He’ll add a handful of rebounds and a handful of assists and a steal. He’s also been playing some lock-down defense that definitely adds to his value beyond the stat sheet. He’s not likely to move too far from this grade and that’s okay. He’s doing it right ways all the time.

F Ethan Happ: A-plus

He’s got holes in the offensive game that need improvement, that’s undeniable. But Ethan Happ has an array of pretty moves in the paint to get good shots, shooting a very nice 69 percent. Add to that a much improved rebound rate, fast hands to be a threat for two steals, and a block per game, as well as a much improved ability to find the open shooter for a good look, and you have the perfect post player.

Practically perfect anyway.

F Vitto Brown: C-minus

Ultimately, someone was going to have to get their role diminished with just how much Happ was improving, and it looks like it fell to Vitto as his scoring and rebounding are down from 9.7 and five to eight and 3.8, respectively. His assist to turnover ratio is again south of one.

Ironically, a part of it might be taking up the beyond the arc jump-shooting slack of Nigel Hayes. After hitting 10 of his first 19 three point shots through the North Carolina game, he shot 30 threes in his last seven games. He’s hit seven. That’s good for 23.3 percent from beyond the line.

That said, there are signs Vitto’s coming out of the woods. He’s attempted eight of his 10 free throws on the season in the last three games. That goes along with three of his five steals, seven of his 16 assists, 18 of his 49 rebounds, and 70 percent accuracy on his twos. It’s been a bit messy, but he’s shown he can do well and that doesn’t go away.