What should fans expect from this team for the 16-17 season if Nigel Hayes stays? What if he doesn't?
Phil Mitten: Returning the entire rotation from a 12-6 Big Ten squad is huge. I don't know about everyone else, but I expect a Big Ten title contender and an Elite Eight-caliber team with Hayes, contingent on him exhibiting much-better shooting and decision-making. I've always been in the camp expecting Nigel to leave school, but I hope he realizes that wouldn't be the wisest move right now.
Even without Hayes, there are plenty of reasons to forecast the Badgers back in the conference title race next season. The experience Wisconsin now has up front with the maturation of Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown was a fantastic storyline that can give the team a lot of momentum through the off-season. We know full-well what Koenig's strengths and weaknesses are by now and he needs shooters next to him to be most effective. There are a couple good, young options waiting to fill that role and should be working all summer toward that goal.
Curt Hogg: Badgers fans can expect another Final Four run and competing for the Big Ten title. And those won't be undeserved expectations--the team will put it on itself. Everyone returns from this Sweet Sixteen team, and you add Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet. They *could* go 11 (!!!) deep. (Though I would throw out an Alex Illikainen redshirt as a wise decision, a la Showalter three years ago as a sophomore.)
The junior core of Hayes, Brown, Showalter and Koenig will all improve even more. Ethan Happ will hopefully turn into 3than Happ, which will aid the spacing on offense even more.
If Hayes leaves, then, first off, good for him. The kid is chasing a dream, and it's a good kid at that. It would be intriguing to see which players fills his starting spot. Would they go small with Hill? Iverson? Add in the bruiser of Charlie Thomas? Illikainen? Heck, Van Vliet? Expectations would be tempered slightly, but there would still be second-weekend of tournament hopes.
Andrew Rosin: You can honestly say without hyperbole that the Badgers look like they could play for the National Championship again. Yes, there is the possibility the shot forever gone and he becomes some kind of meme I never want to hear discussed on this website, but on paper, this team improves on last season.
The Morning After: Looking back on UW's season
Wisconsin's ride fell short on Friday night, and did so in crushing fashion. Let's try to put the season in perspective, just hours later.
If not? It gets interesting. Khalil Iverson would have the ultimate unique opportunity to see what he can do with starters minutes. The media might not trust the Badgers chances as much, but Iverson's shown flashes of talent. I could see a breakout if the door opens. Either way, they get the tournament.
Drew Hamm: If Hayes stays in school the Badgers are a preseason top-10 team with legit Final Four aspirations. If Hayes decides to go pro the Badgers are a preseason top-25 team with legit Sweet 16 aspirations and the added bonus of being "a team nobody wants to play come March."
Jon Arens: Hayes staying makes the Badgers a top ten team, no question. The fact that I can say something like "This is a Final Four or bust year" is somewhat insane, but speaks to just how high the program has been elevated the last four years. Drew and I said this often last year, but a whole generation of kids in the Midwest have grown up with Wisconsin as a legitimate powerhouse. Minnesota and Illinois are in complete slumps, and Ohio State is faltering. Wisconsin needs to strike while the iron is hot and formally make the leap to year in and year out, top ten program. With Hayes, they can do it. Without him, I think you see a Sweet Sixteen level team that almost entirely depends on just how good Happ becomes in year "two". Happ is unquestionably a superstar in the making, but could hugely benefit from not having to shoulder the weight of that next season.
Who needs to step up the most from this team for 2016-17?
Phil: I'll go with Brevin Pritzl. I don't know how much he has gotten to practice this year with his foot problem, but as a redshirt freshman, he was the kind of robotic gunner this year's team needed to take pressure off Hayes and Koenig. The problem is that he has to play defense well enough to see the floor so that he can help UW from long-distance. And his strength, endurance and techniques on defense are the biggest question marks.
Curt: I'm copping out and picking....NO SINGULAR PERSON! I think everyone has definite areas to improve upon that will aid this team in 2016-17. Hayes' and Happ's shooting. Iverson's ball-handling. Brown's post offense. Things like that. If they hope to make the Final Four next season--which is very plausible--it will be on the shoulders of Hayes. So that's kind of my answer?
Andrew: There seems to be a theme developing on these, because I was going to say Jordan Hill. As a third guard last season, he was okay, but he definitely needs improvement in shot selection and protection of possessions on the offensive side of the ball. He has the inside track to hold and build on the minutes he earned last season, but if the Badgers are to live up to their expectations? They need a third guard.
Drew: Depending on Hayes' decision, Koenig probably needs to be the guy who steps up the most next season. He is the point guard and needs to establish himself as the unquestioned leader of the team. The last two years Wisconsin has had a number of personalities that have allowed Koenig to operate in the background. If Hayes leaves, Koenig has to fill a roll he may be uncomfortable with: vocal team leader. I'd also like to see Khalil Iverson incorporate props into his dunk attempts next year.
Jon: For me, this has to be Happ. After a year flirting with it, Happ finally fouled out in his last game, and it crushed him. Too often were there periods of six to eight minutes in a half where Happ was not able to get on the court, mostly because of quick back to back fouls. Happ has the killer instinct you need in an alpha player. He wants the ball, and he attacks with the goal of driving momentum in his favor. But unless he can be on the court 80 percent of a game, that potential to be a Frank Kaminsky-type player is capped. If he can get his defensive mechanics under control, he will become a monster, and the Badgers will be a completely different team on offense.
Who will be the breakout player for next year's team?
Phil: I would say Andy Van Vliet, but I just don't know how many minutes he can see if Hayes returns. Is Happ still eligible? Whoever develops a reliable jump shot first between Happ and Iverson will be the breakout star of 2016-17.
Curt: Well, this season it was Brown and Happ, in large part because they got more playing time. So which player will see the biggest jump in playing time next year? Because that's my answer. I'll go with Van Vliet, considering he saw a grand total of zero minutes this season and showed improvement all year long in practices.
Andrew: I would also say Van Vliet, as he is the platonic ideal on the offensive side of the ball for a Badger power forward, but if Hayes stays, the player with the best opportunity to make a step up would be Pritzl. The Badgers need a shooter. Unless Gard is more flexible on graduate transfers than Bo Ryan was, Pritzl has the best chance to do something great.
Drew: What if Iverson shoots 500 threes in the gym every day this offseason? Hoooooooo baby that is an enticing thought.
Jon: I am going off the board and saying this will be Charlie Thomas. Already granted PT by Bo, and scaled a bit by Gard, Thomas has to be extremely driven this off-season to recapture a starting role. Thomas can shoot threes, and did so this year -- a rarity for a freshman big at UW. If that shot continues to develop, watch out. He is a brute. Maybe Happ can teach him some low post moves.