Wisconsin will not have an easy task repeating the success of last season, but it certainly has the ability.
The Badger roster that earned a trip to the Final Four a season ago lost just three players, including only a single starter, Ben Brust. UW returns four starters: Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser, while Nigel Hayes or Bronson Koenig will likely fill the fifth and final starting spot.
As for new faces on the team, Wisconsin will add just one player to its roster, Ethan Happ. The 6-foot-7 incoming freshman forward features a broad skill set, and has the size to play near the basket and the skill to knock down the outside jumper.
Happ will have a tough task ahead of him to earn minutes on head coach Bo Ryan’s already talented frontcourt, but it would not be the first time a freshman has made an impact for Ryan. Just last season, freshmen Hayes and Koenig found their way from the bench to the court with frequency.
On the other end of the age spectrum, the Badgers will have five seniors on their roster. Kaminsky, Jackson, Gasser, Duje Dukan and Jordan Smith are all entering their final season of eligibility.
Kaminsky, often looked at as the go-to scorer in the latter half of last season, will undoubtedly have the spotlight on him entering this year. As a junior, Kaminsky averaged a team-high 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The dominant forward passed on his opportunity to enter the NBA Draft after last season to make a final run with the Badgers in 2014-’15.
Last season UW dominated its nonconference schedule to start the year, going an incredible 16-0 and sweeping the competition. The Badgers may have a tougher task repeating this feat next season. Though the official schedule is not yet decided, Wisconsin will be playing in the Battle for Atlantis tournament, as well as the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
The Battle for Atlantis features several competitive programs in its eight-team tournament, including North Carolina, Florida, UCLA and Butler. A matchup against any of these teams will be a tough game to win.
Wisconsin will have the pleasure of hosting Duke at the Kohl Center in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge Dec. 3. The Blue Devils are also a top- ranked team coming into the 2014-’15 season, and will have the No. 1 freshman prospect, Jahlil Okafor.
The last time these teams met was in 2009 when the Badgers upset the higher-seeded Blue Devils at the Kohl Center, 73-69.
For its conference schedule, UW will play Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Penn State twice, and play each of the other Big Ten opponents just once. The team’s keynote home game will be against Michigan State.
Only time will tell, but the returning talent and competitive schedule makes this season appear to be one with plenty of excitement.