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Monday, October 24, 2022

UW-Madison Preview, 2022-23

UW-Madison Badgers

December 3, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Greg Gard (144-78)

Three-Year NET Average: 23.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 24.3

2022-23 Projected T-Rank: 64

Projected Starters: PG Chucky Hepburn (6'2" So), SG Max Klesmit (6'4" Jr), SF Jordan Davis (6'4" Jr), PF Tyler Wahl (6'9" Sr), C Steven Crowl (7'0" Jr)

Madison fans hope Chucky Hepburn can be their next breakout star

Photo by Mark Hoffman | JS Online

For a team picked 10th in the Big 10, winning a share of the Big 10 title behind breakout star Johnny Davis was a massive overachievement in Madison. While they never impressed the computers like Badger teams of the past have, they found ways to win close games and earned a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament before being upset in the second round by Iowa State. For much of the year, it seemed like Davis was a get out of jail free card for those close games, using his shot making and excellent rebounding abilities to tear victory from the jaws of defeat time and time again. However Davis and back court mate Brad Davison are gone, leaving UW to figure things out without their top-two scorers from a year ago.

How they address that starts with Chucky Hepburn. While he had freshman inconsistency early on, he started to put it together in the second half of the season. In UW-Madison's last 17 games per T-Rank, he improved his efficiency (95.1 to 103.8), three-point shooting (28.3% to 42.1%), assist rate (11.7 to 16.6), and turnover rate (17.9 to 12.3). If Hepburn can build on those numbers, he could be one of the best guards in a league better known for bigs. He's joined by Wofford transfer Max Klesmit. The Neenah native was an effective scorer (14.9 ppg), though his efficiency took a hit against higher level competition so it may be a difficult initial transition to the Badger schedule. Jordan Davis will likely get the first crack at replacing his brother, but he was minimally used in his first two years in Madison and will see competition for minutes from Green Bay transfer Kamari McGee and freshman Connor Essegian. Up front, Tyler Wahl could be the other Badger poised for a breakout. He has steadily improved his efficiency along with his minutes and usage in his time in Madison. Steven Crowl will man the middle and looks like another prototypical Madison big. He needs to improve his rebounding, but has already shown some ability to stretch the floor and create matchup problems.

In terms of style, expect a return to UW-Madison slow-down basketball. Last year's team played at 66.5 possessions, their fastest tempo of the kenpom era. Much of that was Gard getting his system out of the way to let Johnny Davis do his thing. In games played at 71 or more possessions, the Badgers went 6-1. One of the biggest reasons for that success was virtually never turning the ball over, though their #2 national turnover ranking was largely driven by how good Davis (#300 nationally) and Davison (#15) were at ball control. Without them, expect a return to the deliberate pace in order to control the ball and a heavy dose of three point attempts to maximize scoring output in low possession games. They'll concede the offensive glass and free throws, but on the other end will keep the glass clean and defend without fouling, sticking in man with few switches to force teams deep into the shot clock.

Predictions have UW-Madison in the bottom half of the Big 10 this year. But after making 22 of the last 23 NCAA Tournaments, writing this team off early is a mistake. Hepburn is ready to make a jump, they have capable shooters at five positions, and a return to their slow-down style will provide headaches for opponents. Wahl and Crowl give them an efficient if unspectacular front court. Add in what looks like a down Big 10 and the Badgers will likely finish in the top-6 of their league and make the NCAA Tournament as a single-digit seed. If anything could trip this team up, it would be injuries. There's no one proven behind Wahl and Crowl up front and none of the bench options have shown reliable high-major contributions before. Even still, for now pencil them into a boring but respectable finish.

What We've Learned: Bucky has top-100 wins over Stanford, Dayton, and USC, and nearly knocked off Kansas, falling by one point in overtime. They've done that mostly behind a solid defense, though how sustainable that is when opponents are making just 23.4% of their three-pointers is questionable. Offensively, they have slowed the pace back down but aside from not turning it over, aren't doing anything particularly well. Tyler Wahl has taken over the alpha role, albeit inefficiently. The real breakout player has been freshman Connor Essegian, who's making 54.2% of his thees and has become a microwave scorer off the bench. He was the difference maker in the Atlantis MTE, where he averaged 14 ppg/3.8 rpg in leading the Badgers to those Dayton and USC wins and the close-but-not-quite against Kansas. He has the look of a player Badger opponents are going to hate for the next four years.

Marquette Connection: Marquette celebrates the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Final Four season this year, which would include the 63-54 victory over UW-Madison. It was a close first half with the Badgers leading 29-28 at the break, but Todd Townsend hit a series of big threes to secure the lead in the second half and Dwyane Wade closed things out as he paced all scorers with 25 points. It was also the first win for Marquette over a Bo Ryan coached Badger team. Here's hoping the 2022-23 result is just as satisfying.

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