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Open Jim: What are realistic expectations for the Badgers men’s basketball program this season?

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Welcome back to the Open Jim mailbag, where one reader believes a potential solution for the University of Wisconsin football team's issues on offense can be found in Titletown of all places.

As always, thanks for reading and for those who submitted questions, keep them coming.

If you haven’t already, please click this link to become a print and/or digital member. You’re also invited to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, where you also can join our Wisconsin Badgers fan group.


I’ll open with a disclaimer: While I’ve been at the only practice we’ve been allowed to watch during the preseason, I missed the Red-White Scrimmage on Sunday because I was covering the Packers-Bears game at Soldier Field.

I expect this team to be squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble come early March. I didn’t participate in the Big Ten media poll, but I would have put the Badgers somewhere in the eighth- or ninth-place range.

KenPom and T-Rank both have UW projected to go 9-11 in the Big Ten and I had somewhere between nine and 11 wins when I went through the game-by-game schedule last week. I think the Badgers will struggle to score at times — nothing new there — and they’ll struggle to defend in the post against the steady line of monster big men in the league (Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, Purdue’s Trevion Williams and Zach Edey.

But I think there’s a lot of upside with this UW team. There’s been an influx of athleticism and I hope the Badgers play a little faster — I’m not saying crazy fast, but faster — this season.

Johnny Davis has a chance to be a star and Brad Davison will be a good complementary piece. If Tyler Wahl can make a jump, that’ll be big. Chucky Hepburn is going to have growing pains as a freshman playing the most important position on the court, but he’ll get better as the season goes along and gives the Badgers a pass-first point guard.

Can sophomores Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl make jumps? What will UW get out of other true freshmen such as Markus Ilver and Matthew Mors? What type of role can we expect from Lorne Bowman, who was away from basketball last season?

It’s a really intriguing team that I’m excited to watch grow. But there are going to be plenty of bumps along the way.


This is a gentle reminder that Twitter can be an echo chamber where negativity drowns out reality. So while the “Fire Chryst” crowd can be heard loud and clear on that platform, I don’t think that’s indicative of how the fan base feels as a whole.

I do think a good portion of UW fans think it’s time for a makeover on offense, and I’m in that camp. As I’ve said previously, Chryst needs to take a long, hard look at his coaching staff in the offseason and decide whether to make major changes. Something isn’t right offensively in this program, and it’s up to Chryst to decide what to do about it.

Regarding the Alvarez-to-Chryst comparison, I wrote a couple weeks ago about the ruts Alvarez encountered as UW’s coach.

Here’s the difference, though: When UW took a step back in the mid '90s, Alvarez already had delivered a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory. When the Badgers hit the rut in the early 2000s, that came after back-to-back Big Ten/Rose Bowl championships.

The point is Alvarez had built a lot of credibility by that point. While Chryst has led the program to three West Division titles in his first six seasons, he has yet to get the Badgers over the hump by winning a Big Ten championship.


While the Badgers have dipped their toes in the transfer portal — Chez Mellusi is making an impact at tailback after arriving from Clemson — I’d be shocked if Chryst and UW did an all-out cannonball into those waters.

As with all things recruiting, there’s an academic component to consider. I know some fans don’t to hear that, but it’s true: UW can’t get every prospect through admissions.

But I think Chryst and Co. need to be open to change in a lot of areas this offseason, and recruiting is one of them. Right now, it’s hard to even tell what UW’s recruiting strategy is after that department has been depleted by departures. Meanwhile, other programs — Michigan State among them — are putting a lot of staff and resources into recruiting.

It’s just one major item on what could be a full plate for Chryst come December.


After seeing this question Monday, I decided to let Graham Mertz answer it for himself at UW’s media availability later that morning.

Here’s what he said: “Early, yeah, you’ve got to learn it. I never had really gotten under center. … I’d say when I first got here, that was the big learning curve, but now I don’t really have any problems with that as far as pre-snap adjustments. I’ve done a great job getting the right runs and stuff like that, so I don’t really feel that is a problem.”

For what it’s worth, I think most of Mertz’s issues are coming after the snap. As has been well-documented, his footwork has been off at times, he gets locked onto his primary receiver too often and he’s been inaccurate on some throws. Throw in some shaky pass protection and it’s no wonder UW has been so poor through the air.


I think those numbers need to be slightly higher, but that may be asking too much.

Here’s a winning formula the rest of the way against West Division opponents: 60% completion rate, 150-175 yards, 1TD, 0 INT.

How realistic is that? Probably not very realistic. Mertz has completed 55.6% of his throws this season and is averaging an interception every 20.6 attempts. He’s also thrown only two touchdown passes in six games.

But I think Mertz needs to hit the numbers I listed if the Badgers are going to win out.


n?

There are two to choose from — quarterback and offensive line — and I go back and forth on which has been the biggest disappointment through the first six games of the season.

At least the offensive line’s run-blocking has improved the past two games. That group still needs to do a better job in pass protection, and that won’t be easy this week against Purdue’s George Karlaftis, but getting senior right tackle Logan Bruss back in the lineup would help.

So I’ll go with quarterback. I’m stating the obvious here, but Mertz has to be better for this team has any chance to win the West Division. We thought he could be great when he arrived on campus as a highly touted recruit. Right now, we’d settle for average the rest of this season.


Getsy, the quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator for the Packers, was the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Mississippi State in 2018 before rejoining the Green Bay coaching staff.

By all accounts, he’s highly regarded by coach Matt LaFleur, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the entire Packers organization.

I think it’s a longshot to get Getsy to come back to the college ranks at this point.


It does appear Packers offensive line coach Adam Stenavich, 38, is a rising star in the profession.

The team promoted him to run-game coordinator last March and Rodgers said recently that he thinks Stenavich, a Marshfield native, is destined to keep climbing the coaching ladder.

The offensive line has held up well so far despite being without left tackle David Bakhtiari for all six games, left guard/left tackle Elgton Jenkins for three games and rookie center Josh Myers for nearly two full games. It also was interesting that Rodgers said after the Packers’ 24-14 win at Chicago on Sunday that it was Stenavich who helped draw up the nifty play design on Rodgers’ 1-yard shovel pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard in the second quarter.

So yeah, Stenavich probably is due a raise after the season. But if Rodgers is correct and Stenavich is going to end up with a bigger role at some point, I wonder how long the Packers are going to be able to keep him around.


One more week, Fred. After that comes a stretch in which the Packers will play seven of their final 10 games against teams ranked in the top half of the NFL in scoring.

Arizona, No. 4 at 32.3 points per game

Kansas City, No. 5 (30.8)

Minnesota, No. 14 (24.5)

Los Angeles Rams, No. 6 (29.8)

Baltimore, No. 7 (28.3)

Cleveland, No. 9 (26.0)

Minnesota again

The Packers need to get healthy, as I pointed out in my column from the game Sunday. And I think it needs to add a player or two, a point I’ll be making in a piece that runs later this week.

I just don’t think this defense can hold up against really good teams.


This streak — 15 red-zone trips for opponents, 15 touchdowns — can’t keep going, can it? Can it?

According to Elias Sports — stat courtesy of ESPN’s Rob Demovsky — the Packers are the only team in the last 40 years to not get a red-zone stop in the first six games of the season.

Prediction time: Green Bay will get one Sunday against Washington at Lambeau Field.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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