FanPost

Wisconsin WBB 2022-23 Season Preview

I'm not sure how much B5Q will be covering WBB, but UW is playing UWL this Sunday, so I'm providing my season preview. We won't glean a lot from this game (UW will win handly), but seeing who starts and who comes first off the bench will provide some insight. Minutes will only be so helpful, there will be a lot of PT for everyone.

Previous Season Review
As I previously argued, the 2021-22 season was a success for UW. Despite a pretty terrible non-conference season (losses to NJIT and Chicago State made it look like a winless Big Ten season was coming), the team won the most Big Ten games since the Kelsey era. This was despite losing their Sydney Hilliard partway through the conference schedule. They had a crazy comeback against Purdue as well as an impressive road win against that same Boilermaker squad. Losing to Illinois in the Big Ten tourney was disappointing, to be sure, but the season as a whole created some good vibes and optimism around the program for the first time since Tsipis’ third season.

Roster
Losses

The team lost a key contributor in Katie Nelson, who’s now a grad assistant. You could argue she was the second best player (behind Hilliard), a consummate 3-and-D player. The team will definitely miss her 3 point shooting and veteran leadership. They also lost Tara Stauffacher, who was a great energy player, but not much else. I’ve stated before I really liked Stauffacher, she seemed to make a number of really smart players, but the numbers show she wasn’t a great contributor.

Gains
Wisconsin has a huge number of players coming in. The headliner is Avery LaBarbera, the reigning Patriot League POTY. She filled the stat sheet with scoring (16.4 ppg), boards (9.8 rpg), and assists (4.0 apg). I expect all of those numbers to go down (better competition and she won’t be expected to do as much as she was on Holy Cross), but that doesn’t mean she won’t be as good a player. Her fit next to Hilliard as guards will be interesting to watch, but both are talented enough offensively to mesh. The freshmen coming in are Lily Krahn, Savannah White, Tessa Towers, Serah Williams, and Sania Copeland. Throw in redshirt freshmen Maty Wilke and Sacia Vanderpool, with walk-ons Mary Ferrito and Ronnie Porter, and that’s a huge amount of new talent. Watching which of these contribute right away, which need more development, and which don’t pop will be key to watch.

Schedule
Non-Conference

As I said before, I think the non-conference schedule is more difficult than I was expecting. I expected it to be pretty weak so the team could pile up some wins and maybe sneak into the WNIT. But if UW is in the mid-100s out of the 330ish D1 programs (that’s where I think they will be), I’d expect about a .500 record in the non-conference. Moseley has suggested she thinks they’ll have a breakout season, which, if true, would probably mean around 8 or so wins.

Conference
The conference schedule is also harder than last year, but partly because last year’s schedule was very light. As a reminder, here’s the breakdown:
Home only: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and OSU
Away only: Indiana, Nebraska, Penn State, and Purdue
Both: Iowa, MSU, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Rutgers

Here’s what I wrote before, and I don’t think it’s changed:
"The "both" is reasonable. Iowa is probably the favorite to win the Big Ten, but MSU finished 8th, Northwestern 9th, Minnesota 10th, and Rutgers 12th. Could be better, but could be worse. The home only is tough: Illinois is starting a rebuild but the other three will all be NCAA Tourney teams (barring a huge surprise for any of them). Away only is a little more forgiving: Indiana might challenge for the conference championship, and Nebraska will be tough, but UW went 3/3 against PSU and Purdue last year.

Let's say they beat Illinois at home, and win one of the "Away Only" games. Are there three wins in the "both" category? Could be, but UW would have to be significantly better this year than last to make that happen. In other words, the record may not be a great indicator whether the team actually improved. If they get 6 or more Big Ten wins, however, that would be a great sign."

Accomplishments To Shoot For
Here are some accomplishments that could/should be checked off this year for Moseley:

  • Have a winning streak. Amazingly, the team never won two games in a row last year (although with only 8 wins maybe it’s not that amazing). Feels likely that will happen this year.
  • Beat one of the rivals. Here I’m counting as "rivals" the three in-state programs, Minnesota, and Iowa (of course, there’s no way Iowa considered UW a rival, but rather as a punching bag). With two games against Minnesota and one against Milwaukee, I’d bet this gets checked (maybe even Green Bay?).
  • Beating a ranked team. This is the most unlikely. They’ll have plenty of opportunities. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it would be amazing if it did.
  • Win a Big Ten Tournament game or get a bye. UW lost in the first game last year, so she hasn’t won one yet. If UW is able to get a bye in the first round, that’s just as good.
  • Have a Winning Record. Probably a pipe dream.

Predictions I May Regret

  • Douglass breaks out. Especially after she began starting, Douglass was really impressive. I’m hoping we see more of her as a point-forward, potentially breaking out into an all-around player (driving, playing post, outside shooting, rebounding). The fact she was named a captain makes me more confident.
  • UW is a better team. There’s no doubt it’s a more talented team, the most talented team since Lisa Stone was the coach, but talented teams aren’t always better. I think Moseley and her staff will integrate the newcomers into her system pretty well. This is probably the easiest prediction to make.
  • The record will only be slightly better. Just to say it again: the schedule is tougher this year. They could have a marginally better record (e.g. 10-12 wins is what I’d guess right now) and yet still be substantially better. To really determine if the team is better, we will have to dig a little deeper to see if the program really is improving. Of course, if the team does have a substantially better record I’ll happily admit I was wrong.
  • The Badgers will or won’t finish in the bottom four. Yeah, I keep waffling on this. Amazingly, UW has always finished in the bottom 4 of the league since they expanded to 14. No other program can say that; even Illinois managed to finish 10th one year. In the upcoming season, are there really 4 teams worse than UW? Obvious candidates are Rutgers and Illinois. Who would be the last two? Minnesota lost a lot of talent, and one of their star freshman players is out for the season with a knee injury. So that’s three possibilities (although none are guarantees). But who would be the fourth? Penn State seems the most likely, but they’re hoping for a much improved season. Could one of Purdue or Michigan State stumble?

Other Big Ten Storylines

Some other Big Ten stories I’m interested in:
Can Iowa Make a Jump?
As I was writing this, I realized that Iowa is the program most UW fans wish the Badgers would be. They develop players really well (e.g. Monika Cziano), recruit their state really well (e.g. Caitlin Clark), and can supplement the roster with top talent from bordering states (e.g. McKenna Warnock). However, they haven’t made the Final Four in 30 seasons, and last year’s loss to Creighton was a huge upset. They have most of their talent coming back and are the favorites to win the Big Ten. Can they jump into the "elite" program status with a long run? Are they a real threat to win a championship?
Will Whalen Survive After the Season?
We’ve delighted in watching Lindsay Whalen flounder at Minnesota, including an exodus of 7 (!) players transferring out. Nothing wrong with some transfers, and some of the players weren’t really providing any contribution, but some have gone on to better programs (Jasmine Powell to Tennessee, Sara Scalia to Indiana). Whalen has a strong class coming in, but can she actually do anything with it? Time is running out for her to get results, and having a team heavily reliant on freshman is a risky proposition. In addition, one of those freshman suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Will Kieger Turn Things Around?
Similar to Whalen, Carolyn Kieger needs to start producing some results. I think last year people expected PSU to make some improvements, instead it finished 12th. I’m not saying this is a make-or-break year, but another poor season should result in a rapidly warming seat.
New Coaches
Last year saw the retirement of two coaching legends. C. Vivian Stringer was a true legend, having coached at Rutgers for almost 30 years and taking them to the Final Four twice. The results in the Big Ten weren’t as lofty, but they were always competitive, making the NCAA Tourney 3 times, on the bubble once, and another probable invite canceled by COVID. Her replacement, Coquese Washington, definitely has some big shoes to fill, as well as some work to do to get Rutgers back to successful.
The other retiree was Nancy Fahey at Illinois. She is certainly a legend, having been one of the greatest coaches in DIII history. However, she never was a success at Illinois, and I speculate that she retired rather than be fired. Her replacement, Shauna Green, will need some time to turn Illinois into a non-bottom feeder.

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