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Wisconsin men’s basketball preview: forwards/center

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A look at which big men are expected to contribute for the 2021-2022 men’s basketball team.

UW-Whitewater v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

With the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball primed to tip-off in their first regular-season game of the 2021-2022 season on Tuesday night, it is time to take a look at what players might be contributing this year for the team.

Over the weekend, we at B5Q broke down the guards that figure to have a role in the rotation, and today we take a look at the big men.

Seven players from the Badgers 2020-2021 team moved on to either play professionally or play elsewhere via the transfer portal after the team finished with an 18-13 record (10-10 Big Ten). This massive amount of turnover opens up opportunities for many young players to see the court this season.

Let’s start with who is expected to start.

UW-Whitewater v Wisconsin
Junior Tyler Wahl has taken a leadership role this season and is once again penciled in as a starter.
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Tyler Wahl is one of the few primary contributors that return from last year’s team. The 6-foot-9 forward is very versatile and is a great defender and all-around hustle player. He has the ability to guard nearly anyone in the lineup and has steadily improved on the offensive end. He is not known for his shooting prowess, but he brings an energy that can be infectious. Last season he averaged 5.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and one steal per game.

According to head coach Greg Gard, Wahl has taken it upon himself to be more of a leader this off-season, and he is the type of gritty playmaker that good Wisconsin teams generally have. If he can improve his scoring numbers and free throw shooting this year, he could be an x-factor for this young team.

The other big man projected to start on Tuesday is sophomore Steven Crowl. The 7-footer out of Minnesota played sparingly last season but did earn minutes in the NCAA Tournament against North Carolina. In that contest, Crowl held his own, and he is a player that the coaching staff and team consistently talked about as a player to watch.

Crowl has a prototypical build for a Wisconsin big man, and he has the ability to hit shots outside and maneuver in the paint. He is still getting stronger, and will likely struggle at times with some of the experienced post players in the conference, but he is talented.

UW-Whitewater v Wisconsin
Sophomore Steven Crowl takes over as the Badgers center this year.
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

In the exhibition game against UW-Whitewater, Crowl led the team with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including one three-point make. If the Badgers want to get to the NCAA Tournament this year, the development of their young seven-footer will be key.

After the two starters, there are a number of players that should factor into the rotational equation.

Sophomore forward Ben Carlson earned the starting nod against UW-Whitewater with point guard Chucky Hepburn coming off of a preseason injury, but Carlson is probably best utilized off the bench. He has the ability to play both the four or five, which fits in nicely with how versatile Wahl is.

Carlson is a 6-foot-9 sophomore who earned minutes early in the season last year before a back injury held him out for most of the remaining games. Like Crowl, he is a player that can work inside-out and shoot the ball well from outside, but he also has the ability to take his guy off the dribble. He still needs to add more strength, but he is a player that could really give the Badgers some meaningful minutes off the bench.

Cincinnati transfer Chris Vogt is also another big man that fans should expect on the court a good amount. The 7-foot senior is a solid shot-blocker and rebounder. Vogt uses his length well and should be a good energy guy off the bench to spell Crowl. Offensively he is not overly flashy, but his knack for making plays on pick-n-roll action should help give the team a boost.

The other player that I think is a surefire contributor this season is sophomore Carter Gilmore. The 6-foot-7 forward gives Greg Gard some flexibility, and he rarely makes a mistake. Gilmore is a walk-on from inside the state that turned down a plethora of scholarship opportunities to play for the Badgers, and I think he should see the court more this season.

He can spell either Jonathan Davis or Tyler Wahl at the three, and he was a big-time scorer at the prep level. I don’t think he necessarily has the upside of some of the younger players at his same position, but I think he is more prepared to help the team out right now.

UW-Whitewater v Wisconsin
Freshman Markus Ilver is a young player to watch this season.
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Potentially the wildcard for this Wisconsin team is true freshman Markus Ilver. The Badgers took a chance on the 6-foot-8 forward out of Estonia without really having the chance to see him play live, and supposedly he has turned some heads. Ilver is a good athlete that can shoot the ball well. Defensively he still may need some time, but he is a player that could potentially see his role on the team grow as the season progresses. Right now I think he is probably the player farthest down in the rotation, but he could see time this season.

Beyond the players listed above, I just don’t think there are going to be a ton of minutes available. When you factor in scholarship distribution and where players like Chris Hodges and Matthew Mors are right now, I think they are redshirt candidates. That is far from set in stone because both players were solid recruits coming out of high school, but I think things are trending that way.