The winningest group of seniors in Wisconsin’s history will begin their postseason tomorrow night as they take on the winner of today’s Indiana vs Iowa game in the Big Ten Tournament. The postseason is an opportunity for the group to make another memorable run through two huge tournaments, and will also serve as a chance for them to showcase their talents to scouts from the NBA, Europe and across the globe.
The 2014-2015 Badgers saw Naismith Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky get drafted 9th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, and standout junior Sam Dekker was selected shortly later at 18th overall by the Houston Rockets.
In 2015-2016, no Badgers were drafted because the team was able to keep the vast majority of their talent for another year. The only player to leave the team after the season was senior walk-on Jordan Smith.
This year, the Badgers have an experienced roster, with four seniors contributing to the team’s success. Each of the four seniors has their strengths and weaknesses on the court, but do they have what it takes to play basketball professionally?
Koenig has had another fantastic season as the Badgers’ starting point guard, and certainly has a chance to compete for a spot on an NBA roster. At 6’3”, 190 lbs., Koenig is certainly built to play alongside the stars of the NBA, but could benefit by adding more muscle and working on his athleticism leading up to the NBA Draft this summer. Nonetheless, Bronson improved from his junior year with Wisconsin, averaging 14 points per game on 42% shooting from the field and 39% from three. Perhaps the most notable improvement to his game this year, though, was his free throw shooting. Koenig had been consistent from the stripe during his first three years at Wisconsin, but took it to an elite level this season, shooting 91% from the line for a team that has otherwise struggled mightily in that category. An intangible Koenig possesses that any team is sure to love is his clutch play. Koenig steps up in late game situations, as he has demonstrated this throughout his career with Wisconsin, most notably with his thrilling fade away three from the corner to beat the buzzer and knock off Xavier in the NCAA tournament last season. Bronson is pretty much guaranteed a shot at playing in Europe, boasting plenty of talent as a ball handler and scorer who can torch you from deep when he’s hot (just look at the game film from his second half versus Minnesota last weekend). For now, Koenig ought to focus on what lays ahead in March, as it will largely factor into his chances at making NBA roster. Apart from his performances in March, he’ll look to have a great showing at the NBA Combine and NBA Summer League, if he’s invited.
The Badgers always seem to have a “glue guy” type player on the roster. In this player’s first two seasons. that guy had been Josh Gasser, but over the last two seasons Showalter has stepped into Gasser’s role and become the gritty player Wisconsin fans know and love. Coach Greg Gard has assigned Showalter to defend the best players on teams across the Big Ten all season, with “Showy” working to lock up First Team All Big Ten players Peter Jok of Iowa, Melo Trimble of Maryland, and Nate Mason of Minnesota. Showalter’s willingness to step in and take a charge, dive on the floor for a loose ball, or fight down low with the big men for a crucial rebound will not go unnoticed from scouts. Showalter’s importance to this team is something that may not appear in the stat line each game, but anyone who watches a game will be sure to take notice of his play. While it is unlikely we will see Zak playing in the NBA in the future, he definitely has a chance to play at a professional level in Europe. While primarily known for his defense, there is no reason to question his offensive efficiency either. This season, Showalter shot 49% from the field, 39% from three, and 82% from the free throw line while averaging eight points per game. Hopefully a deep tournament run is in store for the Badgers, and Showalter will get to show the world why Badger faithful love him so much.
After the Badgers’ appearance in the National Championship in 2014-2015, Hayes’ NBA draft stock was through the roof, with many scouts and experts projecting him as a first round pick. However, Nigel hoped to take on a larger leadership role with Wisconsin and opted to return for his junior season. A slightly shakier season as the number one scoring option saw his draft stock fall to being a projected second round pick as a junior, and Nigel again decided to return to Wisconsin. Hayes will now graduate as one of Wisconsin’s top scorers of all time, currently sitting in fourth with 1,758 career points, but he could potentially climb into third if the Badgers are able to make deep runs into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments (Danny Jones scored 1854 points in the late 1980s). With his combination of strength, speed and athleticism, Hayes is fantastic at getting to the rim and playing in the post. His field goal percentage climbed up from 37% to 45% this season, which is certainly a positive sign if he hopes to play professionally. Unfortunately, his three point and free throw percentages have dropped off from previous years, as he currently shoots just 31% from three and 58% from the free throw line. But Hayes’ game involves much more than just scoring. He averages six rebounds and three assists to go along with his 14 points per game. Nigel is on the fringe of being an NBA talent, with many mock drafts currently leaving him right on the edge of being drafted in the second round. The best way for him to prove he is an NBA quality player? Help lead Bucky through March.
Brown has been a bit of a let-down in 2016-2017 after a great junior campaign. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a capable player. While he is perhaps the least likely to continue playing basketball post-graduation, it certainly isn’t unfathomable that Vitto could play overseas. If he can step up his shooting for the Badgers in tournament play, he could definitely see a rise in minutes and in turn, a rise in scoring. Last season, he shot 40% from deep, earning himself the nickname “3itto Brown” in the process. With the way basketball has evolved over the last decade or so, teams are always looking for a big man who is capable of knocking shots down from the perimeter. Brown’s big body, long wingspan, and touch from three are the kind of traits that scouts will love to see. The NBA is likely out of the question for Vitto, but playing abroad is still a possibility.
While it is certainly fun to ponder the possibilities of playing as a pro in just a few months, it is crucial that the Badgers’ seniors stay focused on the task at hand right now. A late season slip up has sent fans into panic-mode, but this team is experienced and has plenty of talent to win in on the big stage. If the offense can wake up and the seniors can lead the way (with some help from First Team All Big Ten Sophomore Ethan Happ), Wisconsin can still make some noise not only in the Big Ten tournament, but also in the NCAA tournament. A return to the National Championship may be a bit ambitious to aim for, but don’t count the Badgers out against any opponent they face – after all, it is March Madness. Anything can happen.