Busting Brackets

Big Ten Basketball: 5 early breakout candidates for 2024-25 season

Iowa v Wisconsin
Iowa v Wisconsin / John Fisher/GettyImages
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John Blackwell, Wisconsin

Wisconsin was one of several Big Ten teams hit hard by transfer departures in the early portion of the offseason. Both Chucky Hepburn and A.J. Storr left for greener pastures (and more money, in Storr's case), leaving plenty of minutes to be had in the Badger backcourt.

The return of veteran Max Klesmit, who evolved into a top scoring option for Wisconsin last season, will give the Badgers a proven ball-handler to run the show, but it's sophomore John Blackwell I suspect will be the largest benefactor from the Hepburn and Storr departures.

Blackwell ended up playing a much larger role than most expected as a true freshman in 2023-24, averaging 18.5 minutes per game and putting up solid numbers across the board. He averaged 8.0 points per game and shot the ball at an impressive clip, including 46% from three and 82% from the stripe. Most importantly, he played with a poise and maturity well beyond his years, limiting turnovers and improving his shot selection throughout the season.

As he looks to next year, Blackwell will look to continue to grow as a distributor (he averaged just 0.6 assists per contest a season ago) and improve as a defender. The perimeter defense in particular is an area he has to take to the next level if he wants to become a key piece on this Badger team. He had a knack for getting into foul trouble last season and if his minutes are to continue to increase, that will need to change.

Now, it will be interesting to see how Greg Gard chooses to run this backcourt next season, and the summer and fall months will tell us plenty. Neither Klesmit or Blackwell are really considered true point guards, but Wisconsin's options at that spot are limited. Butler transfer Camren Hunter could be the guy, but is fresh off missing the entirety of the 2023-24 season, while incoming freshman Daniel Freitag will need time to acclimate to the collegiate game. That could force Gard to run Klesmit and Blackwell together in a bit of an untraditional look, albeit one that gives Blackwell plenty of chances to show what he can do.