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Wisconsin point guard D'Mitrik Trice should earn a medical hardship waiver after missing most of last season.

Wisconsin mailbag: Redshirts ready to make football impact, basketball optimism grows

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss Marlon Ruffin as a potential basketball walk-on, the future of the hoops program, where the Badgers go next in basketball recruiting, what defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will do with his young secondary and where things stand with the 2019 football commits.

Question 1

Answer: Jake Hornibrook is a 6-foot-4, 275-pound tackle in the 2019 class who is the younger brother of Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook. It’s possible Jake earns a Badgers offer down the line, but it would have to be based on merit more than his last name. One thing in his favor is how much attention he has received from other programs. Jake Hornibrook already has 13 scholarship offers: Baylor, Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Vanderbilt, Virginia, West Virginia, Buffalo and Old Dominion.

However, the biggest reason Hornibrook would not earn an offer has more to do with the quality of offensive linemen Wisconsin is pursuing in the 2019 class. Wisconsin already has commitments from 4-star tackles Logan Brown and Joe Tippmann. Bryce Benhart, a 4-star tackle from Lakeville, Minn., is extremely high on the Badgers. Wisconsin is in the mix for several other tackles, including Andrew Kristofic, Jonathan Allen, Trevor Keegan and Quinn Carroll, who visited campus two weekends ago. If one or two more tackles commit, there wouldn’t be room for Hornibrook.

Question 2

Answer: I haven’t seen an announcement yet on spring game tickets going on sale, but I’d guess they would be $5, as they were last year. The good news is that, whenever they go on sale, plenty of tickets should be available. The announced attendance last year for the spring game was 8,095.

Question 3

Answer: I’m not sure what Wisconsin basketball’s coaching staff is waiting on when it comes to offering guard Marlon Ruffin a walk-on opportunity. The staff obviously is well aware of his skill set, given that he plays at nearby Sun Prairie High School with big-time Badgers target Jalen Johnson. Ruffin earned Big Eight Conference player of the year honors last week and is averaging 17.2 points per game. Wisconsin already has added a walk-on in 2018 with point guard Carter Higginbottom (Chicago), which was a bit of a surprise.

I watched Ruffin play twice this season in consecutive games against Madison Memorial and Madison West. He scored 13 points against Memorial and 17 points against West. He recently picked up a scholarship offer from Division II Minnesota-Crookston. It’s clear that Ruffin would bring the type of athleticism and hustle that would be appreciated on Wisconsin’s scout team. Ruffin’s ball handling needs to improve, but he’ll stick his nose in defensively and do a lot of the little things. He’s the kind of player who would make the regular rotation players better, even as he occasionally gets under their skin.

Question 4

Answer: Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice are both eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver with the NCAA. They played in 10 games, which is basically the maximum allowable to still be able to apply for an additional year of eligibility. I’d expect that they both will receive the extra year. As for Andy Van Vliet, that lost year of eligibility is gone. Van Vliet didn’t enroll in college within one year of graduating high school, which is part of the criteria under NCAA rules. If Van Vliet opts to transfer to another Division I program this offseason, he would be forced to take a redshirt season and then be a redshirt senior in 2019-20.

Question 5

Answer: Jackson Chryst is Paul Chryst’s nephew and the younger brother of Keller Chryst. Keller recently transferred from Stanford to Tennessee. Like Keller, Jackson plays quarterback at Palo Alto (Calif.) High School. But no, Jackson won’t be getting a scholarship offer from Wisconsin. He is a member of the 2019 class, and Wisconsin already has a commitment from 4-star signal caller Graham Mertz.

Jackson Chryst finished his junior season completing only 45.2 percent of his passes for 887 yards with 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

Question 6

Answer: I expect Wisconsin to sign at least one more player in the 2018 class, even if we don’t know who that player will be at this stage. Wisconsin has only one scholarship offer out to an uncommitted prospect: point guard Tai Strickland (St. Petersburg, Fla.). Strickland told me a couple of weeks ago that he would be open to visiting Wisconsin’s campus but had not lined up official visits as he prepared for his high school team’s playoff run. Strickland has scholarship offers from South Florida, Wisconsin, Boston College, Rutgers and Tennessee Tech.

Wisconsin is losing two scholarship players off the roster in Aaron Moesch and T.J. Schlundt. It’s possible that Andy Van Vliet could transfer, which would open up another scholarship. Incoming freshman Taylor Currie is the only player set to take on a new scholarship in 2018-19. Joe Hedstrom will take one beginning in 2019-20; he will be a walk-on in the 2018-19 season. I’d expect Badgers coaches to go hard after a graduate transfer for immediate help in the front court. But the roster probably will change in some form between now and the start of next season.

Question 7

Answer: No, Wisconsin won’t be playing in the CBI. I know the CBI selects 16 teams that were not picked for the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. But that tournament generally seems to pick schools from smaller conferences. The Big Ten hasn’t been represented since Penn State played in 2014, and Wisconsin won’t be considered, nor does it need the tournament.

The Badgers showed down the stretch enough good things to provide the team and the fan base with optimism entering next season. Brad Davison needed to undergo left shoulder surgery as soon as possible, which took place Monday. Wisconsin rode him as hard it could, but it was time to shut him down.

Question 8

Answer: Jim Leonhard is such a smart coach because he’s willing to listen to player input and adjust to the strengths of his team. If he believes his secondary will be a problem, he’ll plan accordingly. But Leonhard spoke pretty glowingly the week of the Orange Bowl game about the young players he would be coaching on the back end. Wisconsin obviously will rely on safety D’Cota Dixon and cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams. But players such as Patrick Johnson, Madison Cone, Eric Burrell, Scott Nelson, Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams have Leonhard pretty excited.

I’d expect opposing quarterbacks to try to test Wisconsin down the field ― assuming they have enough time against the Badgers’ front seven. And I’d expect Wisconsin’s secondary to rise to the challenge. We’ve seen this defense perform at such a high level that these players know exactly what will be demanded of them.

Question 9

Answer: Nate Reuvers and Ethan Happ are very different players, so it’s hard to compare them in that way. Happ used his redshirt season and then earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2015-16. Reuvers was forced to burn his redshirt after five games and basically had to learn on the fly during his freshman season. Reuvers is a big man who likes to hover on the perimeter. He attempted 47 3-pointers this season, although he connected on only 25.5 percent. Happ would prefer to do all his damage in the paint.

I think Reuvers will be one of the most improved players on the team next season with a full spring and summer to bulk up. If Happ returns for his senior season, the Badgers will have a solid starting front court. We know Happ’s versatility presents matchup nightmares for opponents. I’m not ready to proclaim it one of the best duos in the country because Reuvers will have to show he can play at that level.

Question 10

Answer: Any transfers out probably would take place sooner rather than later. If it’s not a good fit, players need to be able to have time to move on and find somewhere else to play. In terms of recruiting news, hopefully we’ll have more answers by the end of April. High school recruits will be wrapping up their state playoff runs soon. And any potential graduate transfers also likely are nearing the end of their respective college seasons. Two years ago, Wisconsin didn’t get an official visit from D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford until April 21. Both players committed to the Badgers on April 23.

Question 11

Answer: The top three that come to mind are tight end Jake Ferguson, cornerback Faion Hicks and safety Scott Nelson. Ferguson has the chance to be special, and we should see him on the field plenty along with tight ends Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston. Ferguson earned rave reviews during bowl prep in December.

As I wrote last week in my list of five potential breakout players for 2018, Ferguson ranked as the No. 13 tight end in the country for the 2017 recruiting class in the 247Sports composite, but some services rated him much higher. He was selected for the finals of Nike’s The Opening and rated as the No. 2 tight end nationally. Unlike last season, when Troy Fumagalli was far and away the best tight end on the roster, the gap isn’t as wide entering 2018.

Neuville caught 9 passes for 81 yards with 2 touchdowns last season before sustaining a right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Minnesota. Penniston caught 7 passes for 56 yards with 1 touchdown. Ferguson quickly could make up ground and see the field, especially if he continues to catch seemingly every ball thrown his way, as he did during practices.

Hicks and Nelson, meanwhile, both have a chance to crack the two-deep at their respective positions. Dontye Carriere-Williams is the only obvious starter at cornerback. Madison Cone could earn the other starting cornerback job, but Hicks will be in the mix. Nelson earned the opportunity to travel with the team late in the season, which is a sign of what coaches think of him. D’Cota Dixon and Patrick Johnson are the likely starters, but we’ll see if Nelson can earn time on the field as well.

Question 12

Answer: I’ll go with two members of Wisconsin’s 2017 recruiting class: Nate Reuvers and Kobe King. Reuvers showed he wouldn’t back down while battling bigger bodies and finished third on the team in blocked shots. He averaged 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game and gained invaluable experience. Wisconsin’s strength and conditioning staff will put Reuvers to work this offseason, and he should be a much stronger, more confident player next season.

King was just beginning to show off his talent when he sustained a season-ending left knee injury in early December. He averaged 5.2 points over 10 games. But it was clear during the team’s exhibition season what a uniquely gifted scorer King is. He can score at the rim or on difficult pull-up and fading jump shots. Those two players, alongside Brad Davison, will make for one of the better recruiting classes the Badgers have had in recent seasons.

Question 13

Answer: Graham Mertz has made it clear that he’s sticking with his Wisconsin commitment. He has earned a boatload of scholarship offers since committing to the Badgers on Oct. 8, which certainly has put a scare into Wisconsin fans. But he has built a great relationship with quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr and is invested in making the 2019 recruiting class as good as Wisconsin has ever had.

I talked to tackle Logan Brown’s coach about where things stand with his commitment. Brown is a 4-star player who would be the second-highest-rated tackle Wisconsin has ever signed. Here’s what Brown’s coach, Tony Kimbrough, told me:

“Georgia came in in December, and he told the coach flat out that I am committed to Wisconsin,” Kimbrough said. “He said, ‘I love everything about it, and I don’t see myself de-committing.’ So that was huge. That tells me where his loyalties are.”

While it’s always possible that a 17-year-old high school student could change his mind, the players in the 2019 class appear pretty set right now. Lots of these recruits could have played at several other schools, but there’s something special about what Wisconsin is building.

Question 14

Answer: It’s tough to project what Wisconsin’s basketball team will look like in two seasons. Taylor Currie is putting together a strong senior season at Clarkston High in Michigan. But he’s entering Wisconsin after reclassifying in high school, which means he’ll be a year younger than everyone in his grade. Currie likely will redshirt next season. Whether he significantly contributes in 2019-20 as a redshirt freshman depends on his development. Happ was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after taking his redshirt season, but not many players can pull off such a feat. Hedstrom is a redshirt candidate next season as well.

If Wisconsin doesn’t land some other front-court player in the 2018 class, perhaps the Badgers can find an instant impact forward in the 2019 class. There should be plenty of scholarships available at that time.

Have a question about Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.