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Wisconsin men’s basketball season preview: Nicholls State

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The Colonels won the regular season Southland Conference title last season, but lost in the conference tournament. What do they bring back this year?

NCAA Basketball: Nicholls State at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Nicholls State Colonels
Location: Thibodeaux, La.
Conference: Southland
Head coach: Austin Claunch (third season, 53-34 overall)
2020-2021 record: 18-7 overall, 14-2 Southland

Top returning players: 6-foot-0, PG, Ty Gordon (14.6 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.6 rpg, 1.0 spg); 6-foot-11, C/F, Ryghe Lyons (8.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 bpg); 6-foot-3, G, Pierce Spencer (3.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.7 apg)

Top newcomers: 6-foot-3, G, Devante Carter (14.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.0 apg) transfer from Norfolk St.; 6-foot-5, G, Latrell Jones (10.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg) transfer from Portland; 6-foot-4, G, Caleb Huffman (13.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.7 apg) transfer from Central Michigan

NCAA Basketball: Nicholls State at Louisiana State
Ty Gordon has Southland Player of the Year potential this season.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

2020-2021 review: The Colonels won the Southland Conference regular season title last year, but didn’t get to go dancing due to losing to Abilene Christian in the conference tournament. You might think this is shocking, but if you look at the results from Nicholls State’s schedule it really isn’t.

Nicholls beat zero (0) teams that finished the season ranked better than No. 200 in KenPom’s rankings (UC Davis, No. 209), in fact, only four of their 18 wins came against teams ranked better than No. 300! The Colonels ended the season ranked No. 196, so they beat everyone they were supposed to beat...they just couldn’t beat anyone better than them.

Kevin Johnson and Najee Garvin, both double-figure scorers and all-conference third team members, have moved on, as well as Andre Jones who also started for the Colonels. With Gordon (first team all-conference and Southland Newcomer of the Year) and Lyons coming back, however, 31-year old head coach Austin Claunch has a solid base to make another run at an NCAA Tournament bid.

NCAA Basketball: Nicholls State at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

2021-2022 preview: Despite losing nine players to the transfer portal, Nicholls should still be in pretty good shape to repeat as regular season Southland champs. Five teams, Abilene Christian, Lamar and perennial conference powers Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin, have left the Southland for the WAC (while Central Arkansas went to the Atlantic Sun).

That leaves only eight teams in the Southland and every prediction I’ve read for the conference has Nicholls finishing in the top-three. Gordon is pretty much a unanimous pick to repeat on the first team all-conference and some preseason predictions have him as the conference player of the year.

With a big man like Lyons, there will be few teams in the Southland that can compete with his size down low and the host of high scoring transfer guards surrounding him could leave him one-on-one in the post a lot. This should be another good test for the Badgers, who will still be breaking in their new lineups when this game happens.

Game vs. Wisconsin: Wednesday, Dec. 15; Madison, Wis.; Kohl Center; BTN; 7:00 p.m. CT