Kahlil Iverson is a 6’4″ forward from Ohio who has an interesting profile. He wasn’t seen as a major recruit when Wisconsin landed him…they beat out Tennessee, Penn State and some MAC schools for him…but his highlights and talk around the program as to how excited Ryan is by him have people thinking him capable of impacting the game immediately. He’s a very good athlete with a serious motor, but his shot and ball skills in general appear to need some refinement. If he’s able to maintain the aggression he played with in HS, there’s likely a significant role available for him somewhere in the Badger rotation, likely at a forward spot.
Brevin Pritzl is a 6’3″ shooting guard who should play an immediate role due to his ability to shoot the basketball. Wisconsin has lost a ton of offense and Pritzl is a guy who can definitely make shots. He needs to get stronger and improve defensively but I have a hard time imagining that he doesn’t see signficiant early minutes. He’s probably going to come off the bench but it won’t be for cameos…they’ll need him to be a zone buster.
Alex Illikainen is a 6’8″ 230lbs post player who is the latest Minnesota native Ryan has signed, a state which has been very good to his program over the years. He’s another in the “typical” Wisconsin big man mold…he has range out to the arc and plays with some physicality and toughness. He’s also reportedly a good rebounder but needs to work on developing his post up skills, as they’re fairly raw at this point. Given the makeup of the Badger roster it’s a virtual certainty that Illikainen will play…the question is only how much. In a more typical year, he’d probably redshirt the way Happ did a season ago and then burst out of nowhere next year but Ryan doesn’t have that luxury now.
Charlie Thomas is a 6’8″ 240lbs freshman post out of Maryland. He’s a guy who brings strength, rebounding and some defensive ability to the table but is considered to be a work in progress on the offensive end. He doesn’t have a sophisticated post game nor does he have the kind of face up ability a guy like Illikainen possesses. Whether he plays much or at all depends upon how quickly he grasps Ryan’s concepts and how much additional need there is in the paint.
OVERALL – Let’s be honest…if you look at this team on paper alone, you don’t pick them 4th. You might not pick them any higher than 7th or 8th…I can make a decent case for Illinois or Ohio State having more pure “talent” than the Badgers, never mind teams like Purdue or Michigan. Yet, we all know the deal by now…Bo Ryan hasn’t ever finished lower than 4th in the Big Ten since he took the job in Madison. Bo Ryan will always throw guys onto the court who redshirted or were buried deep on the Badger bench for their first year or two and said players suddenly turn into winning Big Ten cagers. We’ve seen this movie before.
The good news for Wisconsin is they’re not completely starting over. Hayes and Koenig are a great two man combination to build around. These are guys who started for and played key roles in a championship level team, and I think both have further room to grow from here. Wisconsin will have “go-to” guys on the court, so that’s not an issue.
The question is, what’s around them? Guys like Showalter, Brown, Hill and Dearring have played limited or no role in Badger basketball to date but they will be needed for major minutes this year. I suspect that not all of them will be effective but some will…that’s just what happens with this program. Wisconsin also has more of a need for immediate impact from freshmen than we normally see. I’m not convinced that any of them are immediate stars but I like the odds of 3 of them to fill significant rotation roles as first year players.
The wild card to me is Happ. If he’s as good as the people in Madison seem to believe, this team can be very good. Ryan needs at least one big man in his lineup who can stretch a defense and Happ appears to be that guy. If this were another program, there would be ample reason to suspect that it will take more time for a guy like Happ to be a significant factor this early…but this is Wisconsin. We’ve seen this before and I believe.
I have them 4th. It’s tough to see them any higher than this based on the merits and I could absolutely see them finishing lower, maybe even by a few spots…but I’m not about to predict that happens. Not with this program and not with this coach. I think they’re going to have to get back to playing ugly and I suspect they’ll do that. This team will not be nearly as pretty to watch as the last couple of Badger teams have been but I suspect they’ll show enough grit and enough smart and heady play to force their way into another nice season.