Thursday Thoughts: Year of the Badger? UW sports poised for runs

Corey Clement looked like his old self despite average rushing numbers against a top-tier Michigan State team.

Image By: Gage Meyer

Let’s put the cart way before the horse, just for the fun of it.

Could this be the best year ever for Badger athletics? The football team is No. 9 in the country and Ken Pomeroy has the basketball team at No. 7 in his preseason power rankings. 2016-’17 has the potential to be the season in which both teams compete for a national title.

We’ll start with best-case scenario first. The Associated Press is under the assumption the Badgers are in the top 10 after the shocker in Green Bay and a throttling of feeble Akron. The jury is still out on how good Wisconsin really is, but any reasonable judge would rule that their defense is fantastic.

The linebacking corps comprised of Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy, T.J. Watt and a now healthy T.J. Edwards has a case as the best in the country. They shut down Leonard Fournette, supposedly the next Adrian Peterson, and then didn’t surrender a touchdown against the Zips. They are talented and fast and have shown the capability to contain the nation’s best.

Corey Clement looks like he has returned to form after his injury-riddled 2015 campaign and Dare Ogunbowale is a more-than-solid change of pace in the backfield. Troy Fumagalli played a fantastic game against LSU and then Jazz Peavy showcased his ability in the receiving game the following week.

The bottom line is this: The Badgers are better than most people expected. If they can take two of three between Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State (which doesn’t seem so crazy anymore) and knock off Iowa in Iowa City, they will be headed to the Big Ten Championship. With another crack at Michigan/Michigan State/Ohio State at a neutral site, they could win the Big Ten and punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff.

Then there’s basketball. Wisconsin returns virtually its entire team from a squad that reached the Sweet Sixteen and really should have been in the Elite Eight if it weren’t for a last-minute collapse. Nigel Hayes figures to be one of the top players in the nation; Bronson Koenig will enter his third year as the starting point guard; Ethan Happ is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year; Zak Showalter is a rich man’s Josh Gasser; and Vitto Brown was hands down the most improved player on the Wisconsin team, carrying the Badgers to several wins last year.

And that’s just the starting lineup.

Charlie Thomas is a big body who surely will have developed from last year. Jordan Hill is an athletic point guard who can come in and move Koenig to shooting guard, which would allow Koenig to (obviously) shoot more. Speaking of athleticism, Khalil Iverson is the best athlete on the Badgers and can play valuable minutes, as well as provide a spark, off the bench. Alex Illikainen is a lights-out shooting option as well. Oh, and they also have Andy Van Vliet, who had to sit out last year due to an NCAA violation, but still stands at 6-foot-11 and could be a huge factor down low.

Wisconsin will have no trouble making the tournament and has the firepower to make a deep run. With the projected depth of this team and with the star power at the top, the Badgers’ squad definitely has a shot at the Final Four and all the marbles.

But, like I said earlier, this is putting the cart about a mile in front of the horse. It’s possible the football team really isn’t that great. LSU may have been seriously overrated (an SEC team overrated at the beginning of the season, say it ain’t so!), and they still have a long way to go in an absolutely treacherous schedule. Bart Houston is not a stellar quarterback by any standard and if he keeps making some of the throws he’s made in the first two games, Wisconsin will be in for a long day when they travel to play both Michigan schools. The injuries the defense continues to sustain could catch up to them. They could lose three out of four, or even all four, to MSU/Michigan/OSU/Iowa, and all this hype could be for another trip to the Outback Bowl.

A similar scenario could be seen for basketball. Koenig could forget how to shoot again and Showalter may not have gotten any better at not firing a line drive at the basket. Hayes’ scoring woes may pick up right where they left off. Brown and Happ could prove to be one-hit wonders. The bench may not be as talented as once thought if pressed into a larger role. If a combination of these things happen, Wisconsin could be looking at nothing more than an early exit from March Madness.

Until these worst-case scenarios start happening though, it’s time to believe in the Badgers. Neither team has given us any reason to think they aren’t national title contenders, so why should we think otherwise? Until one of the teams slips up, Badgers fans should enjoy this time because it’s not often both football and basketball at a major D1 university are both (potentially) this good.

What a time to be alive.

Do you think the Badgers have a real shot at a national championship this year? Do you think they’ll stumble and fall short of their potential? Is Zak Showalter really a better player than Josh Gasser? Let Bobby know at bobby.ehrlich@dailycardinal.com.

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