The biggest shift since April has nothing to do with the roster. Bo Ryan announced this upcoming season would be his last, but that’s all gone into flux since the initial statement. The best read on it is that Ryan wanted to secure the head coaching job in Madison for his top assistant Greg Gard, but the UW administration resisted this, which in turn led Bo to start musing that maybe he wasn’t going to retire after all. It’s a very difficult situation and I think it’s got to be having an impact on the recruiting trail for the Badgers…they’ve missed on a couple of guys in the 2016 class I think they would have landed in years past, like the McLaughlin kid who ended up picking Oregon State over UW. This doesn’t impact the near term, because that picture will always be brighter if you have Ryan directing the team, but they need to sort out which way this is heading sooner rather than later. Interestingly, they did get a commitment from highly regarded instate guard Kobe King for the 2017 class, though, so maybe it’ll all work out fine in the end.
On the roster side, the Badgers did make one intriguing late addition, signing Belgian forward Andy van Vliet. van Vliet is a 6’10” 200lbs skilled big man who may need a year of weight work to be ready for Big Ten play. He fits the standard Ryan big man profile…recruit skill and take some time early on to develop the body for physical play, and then turn them loose as they mature. I would guess that’s closer to the likely timeline of development for this kid than his being thrown into action immediately, but we’ll see as the season progresses.
It’s also worth noting that incoming freshman guard Brevin Pritzl had surgery in July for a stress fracture. He’s expected to be out for the rest of this month before being able to begin workouts at some point in November (they hope). That’s a blow in terms of depth because he was expected to be the rare Badger true freshman who would be thrown into the rotation immediately. He may yet still get there but the injury puts him behind the 8 ball a little bit…it’s obviously more important for a freshman to get into the mix from the start than a veteran, who can rely upon experience to get back up to speed in quicker fashion.
BOTTOM LINE – It’s easy to look at the losses and think the Badgers are heading for a rougher season but that requires one to ignore Bo Ryan’s track record and the fact that he still has some really nice pieces to work with. Nigel Hayes is a legitimate Big Ten POY candidate and Koenig is one of the better proven guards in the conference as well. That’s a nice place to start.
Ryan will have to surround those guys with a lot of players who haven’t done very much in a Wisconsin uniform to date…career backups like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter and redshirted players like Ethan Happ and Riley Dearring are all going to have to be significant parts of the equation, as will incoming freshmen, something Ryan doesn’t often rely upon but will likely have to this season.
I expect he’ll pull enough together to make this team very competitive. It’s probably asking too much for this group to be nearly as good offensively as the last two editions of Badger teams have been, but there’s enough here to allow for UW to be at least decent to good offensively IMO. This is probably not a team capable of getting to a third straight Final Four but I do think they can beat anyone in the league, especially at Kohl, and I think an 11-7ish conference record and yet another trip to the Dance are very much in the cards for one of the most consistent programs in the nation.