Title Odds: +2000
Odds c/o Bovada
Wisconsin has taken a now-unorthodox approach to sustaining its success in NCAA hoops: It returns talent. The Badgers bring back their top-10 players on a deep roster that many will underestimate due to its lack of overwhelming top-shelf talent. That mistake in overlooking Wisconsin will continue, likely, even with the program coming off its recent impressive successes. Even oddsmakers at Bovada continue the disrespect in listing the Badgers at +2000 to take the 2017 NCAA title. We are quite bullish on that.
Nigel Hayes return has plenty to do with why. He pulled out of the draft and returns to Wisconsin after averaging 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists per game last season. His 39.6 percent three point shooting is a notable improvement and should increase his draft prospects, but that was two years ago and last season he was just 29.3 percent without Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker drawing defensive attention away from him and creating open shots. The Badgers have to do a better job at that this season, and Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown are the key to making that happen.
Happ averaged 12 points per game last season while Brown was good for nearly 10, and both can improve on that figure to give Hayes the offensive help he needs both for his advancement and the team’s. Happ had a superb year for a freshman, and saw 28.1 minutes per game. He is also the team’s leading returning rebounder at 7.9 per game. Brown shot 48.3 percent from three over the final 13 games last season, so the Badgers will hope that trend continues to give them the court spacing they need.
Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas both were inconsistent last season as freshmen, but both will get more time and be more vital this season. Neither averaged more than 10 minutes per game a year ago, and even with Wisconsin’s supreme depth those figures should rise to the high teens at least.
In the backcourt the Badgers have Bronson Koenig who hit plenty of threes last season at a 39 percent clip. His buzzer beater over Xavier got the Badgers into the Sweet 16, so the clutch gene seems to be there, too. He will have to step up and become a leader this season, most especially since he is a senior and the team has four seniors to pitch in on that effort.
Zak Showalter is the team’s best perimeter defender, and his energy should be huge for the Badgers. He is not much of a scorer at just 7.5 points per game, but he is competent from three (34 percent) and the Badgers do not look to him to carry much of an offensive load. He can brilliantly perform the role of a “three and D” guy though, with some more improvement on his distance shooting.
Jordan Hill is a good combo guard and gives the backcourt some flexibility, while Khalil Iverson is a mega-athlete in desperate need of a jumper. Brevin Pritzl may be a help off the bench, as well, but he is coming off an injury plagued season and his foot’s health remains a question. He was medically redshirted.
The Badgers were just 9-9 in mid-January last season, and the team really had to rally to make its postseason bid last year. That should not be the case this year with so much experience returning to the roster, not to mention how well it all fits together.
Greg Gard has done a masterful job of maximizing the talents that come through his program, and Hayes’ development (and commitment to stay) perfectly highlights the progression the Badgers are making. He is almost a microcosm of the program, if you will. While Wisconsin is largely written off due to its inability (or apathy) to land the big name recruits, there is no good reason to simply assume a team with this much experience and savvy just folds it up this season.
Even at +2000, the Badgers make a reasonable value bet for bettors prospecting this March. As Vitto Brown said, “There are no guarantees, and that’s definitely a good thing.”