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B5Q Roundtable: men’s basketball season postmortem

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The season didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to, but this year was still a massive success for the Badgers overall

Iowa State v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

This was one of the most wild men’s basketball season that the Wisconsin Badgers have ever had. Going from preseason No. 10...in the conference to Big Ten regular season champs and a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament? That was great. Losing to Iowa State in the second round of the tournament in Milwaukee? Well, that was less great but doesn’t negate the rest of the season.

Here is what our staff thinks about this season and a brief prediction about what next year’s starting lineup might look like.

So, now that you’ve had some time to decompress from the loss to Iowa State…what are your overall thoughts on the season?

Ryan: It was an exciting ride, given that they exceeded expectations by miles and miles. They looked like an interesting team early on in the season, winning the Maui Invitational, but even then I thought maybe they had a chance at finishing in the top four in the conference, with how deep the Big Ten is. However, they really showed up in conference play and proved to be a force to be reckoned with. It’s hard to say what the future will bring, but I think the experience that a lot of the young players got this season, will help this team in the future and Greg Gard proved he is one hell of a coach this season.

Bremen: I thought this year would be a true rebuilding year, with maybe a fun glimpse at the future and some chances for young players to have an impact. I did not expect a team that — despite some flaws — would compete and win the Big Ten title in the regular season. I think it’s a tip in the cap to Gard and co. on the development, not just of Johnny Davis’ explosion, but the improvements of Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl too. That’s the program’s bread and butter.

Although the ending was disappointing, if you would have told me at the start of the season we would head into the tournament as favorites and dark horses for a potentially deep run with a First Team All-American star, I would have stopped you at “head to the tournament.”

Jake: I think that if in September you told any Badger fan that this team was going to make the tournament they would’ve been ecstatic. If you told them that Johnny Davis was going to be an All-American, the Badgers were going to win a share of the Big Ten title and win a tournament game they would ask if you needed help. The end of the year is incredibly disappointing, but this team took us on a ride that absolutely none of us saw coming. There are countless positives to take away from this year and Gard, as well as his staff, should be commended for that.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Neal: Without diving too deep into a state of the program bit here, I think this season showed an important aspect of Badgers basketball. First and foremost Johnny Davis is prime example of bonafide superstar succeeding. Forever the knock has been the inability/unwillingness of NBA lottery-level talents to thrive playing at Wisconsin. In the immortal words of Chucky Hepburn, “Sometimes it’s get Johnny the ball and get the F out of the way.” Credit Greg Gard and the team for realizing and embracing that approach.

Tyler: If you took the Drew Hamm Approach of just having no expectations and enjoying the season I think you found this year to be incredibly fun. I followed that method and thought this year was an exciting ride to follow. The Badgers were picked to do nothing at the preseason and now we are all sitting here disappointed this team isn’t playing in the Sweet 16. I know it doesn’t make it feel any better but I think remembering that makes it hurt a tiny bit less.

Outside of Johnny Davis, whose development this season impressed you the most?

Ryan: Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl. Coming into the season I knew Hepburn was going to be good, but I never imagined he would be THIS good. Hepburn controls the ball like a seasoned vet and his impact was on display in the loss to ISU, as Wisconsin struggled mightily once he went down. Apart from Hepburn, Crowl played very well this season. With very minimal playing time as a freshman, it was unclear what we would get from him this season, but he came on strong and was a staple at the center position. If previous bigs in the program are an indication of what to expect of Crowl, he’s only going to get better as he goes. If he can improve his 3-point shooting, he will be a dangerous big man in the B1G.

Bremen: I think that Crowl was one of the bigger surprises in a good way for the Badgers. After some initial worries in some opening games on defense, he became a steadier presence as the season went on and found some spots to make huge plays. He still has more room to grow, but the growth rate he’s shown this season helped give UW another inside presence on offense along with Tyler Wahl.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Milwaukee
BIG STEVE!
Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Jake: Last year in the Round of 64, Gred Gard put Steven Crowl in the game for three minutes. Prior to that, Crowl hadn’t played more than a minute of garbage time since he got 5-8 minutes in a couple of scrimmages. Most people watching were incredibly confused about who he was, some had never seen him before and wanted Gard to be fired for putting this kid into a tournament game. Fast forward to this season and Crowl is the starting center for the entirety of the season and is a crucial part of almost everything this team does. Huge jump made by the big guy.

Neal: I would like to think I would have said Chucky Hepburn regardless, but losing him against Iowa State made the choice even more obvious. His ability to take care of the ball while hunting his own shot in big moments was impressive. If he continues to improve at the rate he showed his freshman year Hepburn is going to be a real problem for opposing Big Ten teams.

Tyler: I was incredibly impressed by the development of both Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl as the season went on. Next year you’re without Brad Davison, and you’re likely without Johnny Davis. That’s a lot to replace, but the progression from those two youngins makes me feel better about where they will be next year. I mean look at Hepburn, he went from a guy that struggled offensively to start and ended up being a huge scorer down the stretch. The team look absolutely LOST without him out there after his injury against Iowa State. As for Crowl, I think he’s just next in line of Wisconsin big men who can stretch the floor. Those two still give Wisconsin a solid foundation to start on.

What was your favorite win of the season?

Ryan: While Wisconsin had many impressive wins this season, I have to go with the B1G clinching win against Purdue. It was a back-and-forth game from start to finish and once Jaden Ivey tied the game, I thought they were headed to overtime, but then Hepburn banked that step-back three – a shot that rivals Ben Brust’s game-tying basket against Michigan as one of the most exciting baskets in program history. And the fact that it won the conference title, in a season where Wisconsin was supposed to finish toward the bottom of the conference, made it that more special.

Bremen: Both games against Purdue were great. On the road, Johnny Davis really became the Johnny Davis while the Chucky Special was the most fun I had watching Badger basketball ever. It proved to the team that they could go toe-to-toe against the toughest Big Ten programs.

Jake: Either Purdue game is going to be a very popular answer here, so I’m going to go with the 22-point comeback victory to open Big Ten play versus Indiana. At this point in the year, people were beginning to believe in the Badgers, as they came into that game at 7-1 with wins over Houston and Saint Mary’s.

Indiana v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Indiana came into the Kohl Center and punched every single player right in the mouth. As they’d done all year, the boys punched back and Johnny Davis did his thing, mounting the incredible comeback. After it seemed like the Badgers’ luck had run out, the Badgers battled back and sent a message to the rest of the conference.

Neal: Winning at Purdue has to be about the most surprising win in recent Badger basketball memory. The Mackey losing streak, plus Purdue being a top three team at the time had the game feeling like a sure loss. But instead we got Johnny Davis vaulting himself into the National Player of the Year conversation and the feeling perhaps this Badger team was going to be quite a bit better than their conference preseason tenth place prediction.

Tyler: I think I have to say Purdue at the Kohl Center. That was a game that Wisconsin really impressed me and the atmosphere was quite electric. The Kohl Center can sometimes be a flat environment, but it seemed like everyone was very into that game and the end was a thriller. I think that game will go down in Wisconsin basketball lore forever, especially when you consider the implications of winning that game and clinching a share of the Big Ten title.

I’ve honestly been struggling with this question a lot: do you think this Wisconsin team was actually good or were they incredibly lucky?

Ryan: They were actually a good team. Lucky teams get a big win here and there. Lucky teams finish in the top half of the conference. Lucky teams don’t go the entire regular season not losing back-to-back games. Wisconsin was a good team, with a great coaching staff, who took an inexperienced team and made them conference champs.

Bremen: It was a team that was prone to showing its youth. Although Brad Davison and Chris Vogt were very experienced players, Tyler Wahl was in his first year as a junior of having a much bigger role and everyone else was in uncharted territory. There’s a lot of luck in any win. But in most every game, even when the team was missing a lot of shots — obviously something that shot UW in the foot against Iowa State — the team was making smart choices, finding winning positions and doing the right things. As a young team, that’s what you can ask for. Hopefully, it will only get better.

Jake: I think this team was good, but every team is lucky to an extent. A “lucky” team doesn’t take down Purdue twice, share a part of the Big Ten title and earn a No. 3 seed in the tournament. When you’re winning tight games that often, there’s a clear amount of talent and skill that are the driving force toward those wins.

Neal: With all due respect to Drew (Editor’s note: unnecessary) this is a silly question. Of course they were good! They stuck close enough to the basketball Wisconsin pillars of defending well and taking care of the basketball to keep games close when shots weren’t falling. Then smart enough to let Johnny Davis take over close games at the end. Having an experienced leader in Brad Davison certainly helps in close games too. The Badgers were a quintessential ‘make your own luck’ team.

Tyler: I think it’s a bit of both. They did get lucky at times, but they still won the games at the end of it all. How many games can you truly base on luck? I think any team that wins 25 games and a share of one of the toughest conferences in basketball is a good basketball team, luck or not. Will we ever know just how good or just how lucky they were? No, but it’s certainly something that people will debate until next year just as we are now.

Looking ahead quickly, who do you think starts for the Badgers next year (assuming Davis goes pro)?

Ryan: Chucky Hepburn, Jordan Davis, Tyler Wahl, Ben Carlson, Steven Crowl

I think Lorne Bowman has a chance at starting as well, but I like the idea of him coming off the bench as the backup point guard/shooting guard, like he was this season.

Bremen: Chucky Hepburn, Jordan Davis, Tyler Wahl, Ben Carlson, Steven Crowl

I would hope that Bowman could be back with the team and be in the guard rotation, but I think Davis would get the nod over Neath for his three-point shooting. Carlson is someone who I hope will really make a leap next year, as he showed more aggression in the final few games. I do hope the Badgers look in the transfer market for another big man to pair with Crowl.

Jake: Chucky Hepburn, Jahcobi Neath, Ben Carlson, Tyler Wahl, Steven Crowl

Neal: Chucky Hepburn, Lorne Bowman, Jahcobi Neath, Tyler Wahl, Steven Crowl

Without knowing Bowman status, but it does seem like coaching staff expects him back next season. I would also expect the Badgers to be active in the grad transfer market, especially at wing and center.

Tyler: Chucky Hepburn, Jordan Davis, Tyler Wahl, Ben Carlson, Steven Crowl - I do think you could see Wisconsin active in the transfer market as well and try to get a high level guard type player to take Johnny Davis’s spot. Additionally, I think a guy like Chris Hodges could be a guy to watch for.

What are your thoughts on Wisconsin’s three seniors, Brad Davison, Chris Vogt and Carter Higginbottom?

Ryan: I have always been a fan of Davison. He has been the guy for Wisconsin since he got on campus. He has given everything to the program and more, considering he came back for a fifth year. He’s made many clutch shots over his tenure as a Badger and has always been the verbal and emotional leader of the team.

Vogt is one those guys that you wished had more time at Wisconsin. He did what the team needed him to do, plain and simple. He spelled Crowl and made an impact defensively pulling down boards and blocking shots and even had a couple of solid offensive games. He’s also someone you admire off the court as well, for raising money for his hometown, following the tornadoes.

Lastly, Higginhottom always seemed like a guy that was a team favorite. Whenever he played, which was limited, the bench always seemed to be excited whenever he had the ball and especially when he shot the ball. Those are the guys you always root for.

Bremen: Davison always will have my admiration and respect for the literal blood, sweat and tears he gave to Wisconsin. There was never a doubt he loved the program, gave his all, and had some truly electric moments and performances. I hope some day he joins the program again as a coach. Obviously, didn’t have much time with Vogt, but he was always solid in effort and rebounding on defense and there are a couple of games UW wouldn’t win without him (I’m specifically thinking of both Purdue wins that I cherished). He clearly is a good guy too considering all the money he raised for his hometown in Kentucky after the tornadoes back in December.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Milwaukee Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

As for Higginbottom, most all players said he was a guy who kept the good energy in the locker room and that positivity seemed infectious. Anytime he was in a game, it was a good sign, but it was so clear how much the whole team was pulling for him. That’s a great need for any locker room.

Jake: There’s nothing I can say about Brad Davison that hasn’t already been said. He’s one of those guys that you love with all you’ve got when he’s on your team, and you hate him with all you’ve got when he’s your opponent. I don’t know if there’s anyone who loves this university or the city of Madison more than Brad Davison, and he made sure you knew that. He’d give his all for this team and this program. His days with the Badgers aren’t over. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t back as a coach in the near future.

Chris Vogt was incredibly valuable for the Badgers this year, who weren’t a very deep team and needed a couple key contributors off the bench. When called on, Vogt provided some much needed rim protection and took some pressure off of Steven Crowl. Lastly, every team needs a Carter Higginbottom. Every single one. Higginbottom is the ultimate glue guy. Clearly the heart and soul of the Badgers and an incredible teammate.

Neal: Davison – certainly was a lightning rod of criticism from within the fan base and without, but he gave everything he had to the program. Deciding to come back for super senior year and be a part of this team played a huge role in their success. His unselfishness to step back and let Davis be the focal point of the offense was great to see. The succession plan of Gard to Joe Krabbenhoft to Brad Davison is already off and running!

Vogt - An underrated player for sure. Without Vogt the Badgers would have struggled mightily defending the post. Steven Crowl battled foul trouble so often, Vogt was needed regularly to defend and rebound without relying on undersized Tyler Wahl or Ben Carlson. He provided a nice bridge for Crowl’s first season in high level college basketball.

Higginbottom – Definitely seemed to be a well-liked guy on the team. As Tyler notes, all all-time bench mob guy.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Milwaukee Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Tyler: Chris Vogt deserves a lot of credit, he came into a new team and a new place and did exactly what was asked of him. Honestly, he may have done more than I ever expected him to do? He wont be remembered as some great player at Wisconsin but he was a nice piece to this team. Higginbottom was an all-time bench mob guy and he seemed to be clearly loved on that team. He didn’t get much of a shot at the court, but kudos to him for sticking out all these years even when he wasnt getting on the court.

Now, Brad Davison, he was a great player at Wisconsin. He had his frustrating moments but I think he really gave Wisconsin basketball a lot and will be certainly looked upon as a great player at Wisconsin years down the road. Someday he’ll be back and he’ll work his way to head coach. I can already see it. Gard handing the reigns over to Brad! Buckle up, it’s coming!