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Sunday, May 19, 2024
Wisconsin Badgers vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights 03.07.24

 Badgers Claw Their Way to Victory Over Scarlet Knights in men's basketball 

Wisconsin men’s basketball scrambles for replacements as AJ Storr, others enter transfer portal

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team will see familiar faces exit but look to pursue new faces via the transfer portal.

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team was hit hard by a string of transfer portal departures following a disappointing loss to James Madison University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, like many division one teams in the current college basketball landscape. 

Between portal entries, including leading scorer AJ Storr, and the graduation of Tyler Wahl, the Badgers have a number of spots to fill for next season’s roster. 

The Storr void may be the most important hole to fill. Storr was fairly consistent as a go-to scorer and primary offensive option, something the team lacked during the 2022-23 season where it missed the NCAA tournament. The staff will need to replace much of Storr’s scoring if it wants to see another year of productive offensive play. 

The Tyler Wahl replacement will also be critical. As the lone senior this season, Wahl provided a veteran presence, secondary scoring, and playmaking from the power forward spot. The team does return Carter Gilmore and Markus Ilver at this position, but neither have shown enough to play starter’s minutes yet. With plenty of spots to fill, it will be important that Greg Gard replaces Storr and Wahl, while adding some quality depth pieces.

The first departure was sophomore guard Connor Essegian, who announced his decision to enter the transfer portal days after the season’s conclusion. Essegian, who started for the majority of his freshman season and averaged double figures in points, saw an extremely limited role this past season and will look for opportunities elsewhere. 

AJ Storr — who declared for the NBA draft while maintaining college eligibility — joined Essegian in the portal, along with freshman Gus Yalden, junior Isaac Lindsey and walk-ons Luke Haertle and Ross Candelino.

To no surprise, AJ Storr will have unlimited options if he decides to stay for another year of college basketball. There have been plenty of rumors surrounding Storr and potential discussions he has had with coaches regarding NIL, including a rumor that he turned down $750,000 from Kansas, hoping to receive at least one million. Based on that alone, it appears a Storr return to college would be at a big time program, with plenty of money to spend.

However, he did receive a crystal ball prediction from 24/7 Sports that would land him with Big Ten foe Illinois. Despite ongoing discussions about Storr’s landing spot, he’s made a handful of posts on social media indicating he would prefer to stay in the NBA Draft. To this point, Storr’s future is up in the air, but it will not be with the Badgers. 

Essegian’s recruitment has received more publicity. Early on, there was reported “mutual interest” between Essegian and the team he grew up cheering for, Michigan, under new head coach Dusty May. This past weekend, Essegian shared photos in both Maryland and South Carolina uniforms on his social media platforms after visits to both schools. It appears Essegian’s recruitment is still in the works, but for the fans who felt he deserved more minutes this season, Essegian returning the the Kohl Center as an opponent with a chance at revenge would be a game that many circle on their calendars.

Early Sunday morning, Isaac Lindsey became the first Badger in the portal to commit to a new school. Lindsey announced in a tweet he will be transferring to South Dakota State. Lindsey will join former Badger Matthew Mohrs as the second Badger in recent years to make his way to South Dakota State. 

While losing players to the portal is sometimes disappointing, it also creates great opportunities to attempt to plug the holes of last season’s roster, and put the team in a better position to compete. While Wisconsin has shown interest in many players in the portal thus far, it appears Gard’s biggest concern is replacing AJ Storr and Tyler Wahl. 

The target that has drawn arguably the most noise from Badgers fans is Frankie Fidler, a Omaha, Nebraska native. Fidler, who was teammates with Chucky Hepburn in high school, has visited Madison and narrowed his decision to four schools: home-state teams Creighton and Nebraska as well as Wisconsin and Michigan State. Fidler had planned to make his decision Monday morning following a visit to Michigan State this past weekend, but has since announced he will mull his options and delay his commitment. 

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There was speculation the decision may have been a two-headed race between Wisconsin and Michigan State, but by delaying the commitment, it is uncertain which way Fidler is leaning. Badgers fans are hopeful his friendship with Hepburn and the chance to be a primary scorer in AJ Storr’s former role will be enough to snag the 20-point-per-game scorer, but until Fidler himself makes an announcement, there’s no way to know if he will be a Badger next season.

The Badgers hosted a potential Tyler Wahl replacement for a visit when Brandon Angel, who played four years at Stanford, made his way to Madison this past weekend. Angel, who was heavily recruited by Gard and his staff in 2020, is coming off a season where he averaged 13 points, nearly five rebounds and just under two assists. Although Angel's recruitment is expected to be heavily contested between top-tier programs, a visit is still a good sign for Badgers fans. 

While it’s clear Fidler and Angel have been priority for the staff thus far and the Badgers have reached out to a handful of players in the portal, there is little traction known publicly with any others.

There are quite a few Wisconsin natives in the portal as well, which has Badgers fans hoping Gard and company use that as a pull to retool the Badgers’ roster in hopes of a deeper postseason run next season. 

Portal season is far from over, but with a few visits landed, there is reason to hope a finalized Wisconsin roster will include new faces that could help return the team to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.

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