Coming off a disappointing season, and a series of frustrating recruiting misses this summer and fall, Greg Gard’s ‘23-24 Wisconsin Badgers are here with much to prove and a lot of critics to silence.
The good news is that the squad is deeper, with more talent and experience than last season’s version, and looks to be well-positioned to return to both the NCAA Tournament and the upper tier of the Big Ten.
But, the range of outcomes is still fairly broad for this team, so, with that in mind, here are the Best Case, Worst Case, and Most Likely scenarios for this version of Badger Hoops.
Best Case Scenario: Unlike in ‘22-23 where far too much was put on point guard Chucky Hepburn’s shoulders, Wisconsin is poised to unleash a stable of scoring options this season, both near the rim and on the perimeter, that should make things very difficult on its opponents.
Adding a bouncy, three-level scorer in AJ Storr and a skilled freshman big in Nolan Winter to a returning core of Connor Essegian, Steven Crowl, Chucky Hepburn, Tyler Wahl, and Max Klesmit gives Wisconsin a potentially potent offense coming off of a season where too many games were won or lost in the low 60s.
In this scenario, freshman Gus Yalden returns to give the team an extra skilled big for the rotation and those slugfest conference games to come, while fellow freshman John Blackwell contributes as the high-energy, jack-of-all-trades we’ve seen early signs of.
A more confident Carter Gilmore provides solid frontcourt minutes off the bench, as does Kamari McGee at the point. And both Markus Ilver and Isaac Lindsey chip in admirably when called upon.
A difficult non-conference slate of games (Tennessee, Marquette, Virginia, Arizona and Providence) deal the Badgers a couple of early losses, but also provides some valuable battle-testing for the demanding Big Ten season.
A much deeper, more cohesive, and resourceful team slugs out several close, gutsy victories to outduel Purdue and Michigan State at the wire to capture a Big Ten title and secure an NCAA Tournament 2-seed, before falling to Kansas in the Elite Eight. A tough end to an amazing season, but one the Badgers are very proud of.
The ‘Fire Gard’ crew is effectively muzzled, which is a lovely side benefit of this successful hoops winter.
Worst Case Scenario: Despite a talent infusion and added experience, Wisconsin’s “way too easy to figure out” offense from ’22-23 again returns and leaves the team deep into the shot clock without a good look far too often.
In this scenario, injuries also contribute to the mess, with some top players missing games and often leaving the Badgers thin up front.
The freshmen, while showing signs of becoming the really good players they will soon become, are unable to provide the meaningful minutes they were once projected to contribute, exacerbating the depth issues already there due to injury.
While the team still plays sound defense, and gives maximum effort, it comes out on the short end of too many games and are forced to win a Big Ten Tournament game to sneak into The Big Dance as an 11-seed, where they lose in the first round to 6-seed Alabama to end what can only be described as a hugely disappointing season.
Most Likely Scenario: This is a similar, but slightly less optimistic version of my Best Case Scenario, finding a deep Badger team with several weapons fighting through a very difficult schedule to keep improving, eventually finding itself in the thick of the Big Ten race in February.
In this scenario, the Badgers use a more up-tempo, diverse offense and their traditionally solid defense to slug its way into the AP rankings by late December.
With some big-time wins offset periodically by tough losses in the deep and talented Big Ten, the Badgers are in the conference title discussion until the final week, eventually falling short to Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Two wins in the conference tournament springboard the Badgers to a 5-seed in March Madness (we deserved a 3 or 4), where the squad proceeds to take down 12-seed Liberty and 4-seed Texas A&M before falling to 1-seed U Conn in the Sweet 16.
While not quite the season of glory some Badger fans hoped for, ’23-24 was a very strong return to big-time college basketball for the Badgers who seemed so far away from this just one year earlier. Expectations for ‘24-25 will be sky-high with most of the team returning.