With the Badgers officially starting play on Friday night against Western Illinois at 8:00 PM CT at the Kohl Center, we gear you up this week for the season. Here are the top five reasons to be excited for this season.

5. The Freshmen

The Badgers have a very young team this year, with only one senior and eight freshmen technically on its roster, with six of those eight being true freshmen. Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ will be a starter this season, and he had a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) in Wisconsin’s exhibition against UW-River Falls. Among the other freshmen, forward Charlie Thomas and guard Khalil Iverson should see plenty of the floor, as they are both physical players that are already to compete. Forward Alex Illikainen also had a nice game against UW-River Falls, and will likely get some minutes during non-conference play. 6’11” forward Andy Van Vliet could also make an impact off the bench if he wins his eligibility case. Guard Brevin Pritzl has been recovering from a broken foot all summer and has not been cleared to play quite yet as he will likely redshirt. Guards T.J. Schlundt and Jackson Bax will most likely not get playing time, although Schlundt’s shooting may get him some minutes. This is a talented and driven group that is really the difference between the Badgers being a good team or a great team.

4. Guards Looking to Prove Themselves

Redshirt junior Zak Showalter started alongside Bronson Koenig in the exhibition game, and it’s expected that he will start this season. He struggled in that game, but rebounded in the “secret scrimmage” against Northern Iowa on Saturday, putting up 18 points to lead the Badgers to a 71-57 victory. Showalter’s improved shooting, energy, and defense have given him the starting nod over the other two contenders: Jordan Hill and Riley Dearring. Hill, a redshirt sophomore from Pasadena, can play either guard spot and has a nice three-point stroke. He struggled in the exhibition, but he’s one of the leaders of this team. Dearring, on the other hand, played a fantastic game against UW-River Falls, scoring 10 points on 100% true shooting. Dearring has been very focused during practice as well, as the redshirt sophomore fights for minutes. All three guards will have an impact on this team, but who will step up?

3. Challenging, Yet Exciting Schedule

Coming off back-to-back Final Fours, the schedule is indeed going to be tough, especially with an improved Big Ten this season. In just non-conference play, the Badgers will have to play Georgetown (Madison Square Garden), Duke or VCU (Madison Square Garden), at Oklahoma, at Syracuse, home vs. Temple, and home vs. Marquette. After that, the Badgers will of course play Purdue (twice), Indiana (twice), Maryland (twice), Michigan State (twice), and Michigan during Big Ten play. It will be a challenging schedule, but feature some great basketball.

2. The Dynamic Duo: Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig

Wisconsin fans know all about these two returning starters. Hayes, who has been working hard to transition to playing the 3 (small forward/wing position), has been named as a top player in the country and on All-America lists by almost all popular websites and publications. Koenig, who has another year of experience under his belt and has become more of a dynamic scorer, is one of the best shooting point guards in the country along with having one of the best assist to turnover rates in the nation last season. Hayes and Koenig are one of the top duos in the country this season.

1. Bo Ryan’s Last Go Around?

As you have heard about by now, Bo Ryan is considering retiring in the very near future. After stating that this season would be his last, Ryan has gone back on his word and is completely undecided about his future. Badger fans may be worried about this team regressing, but they have to remember how successful Ryan’s teams have been in the past even without superstars like Hayes and Koenig. Bo Ryan always finds a way, and the Badgers will still be a contender in the Big Ten this season. You won’t want to miss out on the future Hall of Fame coach’s last season at Wisconsin.

Image from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Department