After four years of NCAA tournament runs led by the recently graduated University of Wisconsin men’s basketball players Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, the Badgers are going to have to move on with a new core of players.
With these players leaving, they are losing four of their five starters, who accounted for 57 percent of the team’s minutes played last year. That being the case, the 2017–18 team is obviously going to be a lot different.
This is a team that has made the NCAA tournament for 19 straight seasons, which the sixth-longest streak in the nation and the second-longest in the Big Ten. If this team can survive the departures of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, John Gasser and Duje Dukan and still make it to the Sweet Sixteen the following year, then this should be plenty manageable.
The Badgers may have graduated four players last year, but fortunately, they have three incoming freshmen ready to lead the next era of Wisconsin basketball: 6-foot-3 explosive scorer Kobe King, 6-foot-9 forward Nathan Reuvers and 6-foot-3 point guard Brad Davison.
Considering how many significant players departed the Badgers after last season, they may need to rely on these recruits more than they usually would.
Davison will likely spend his first season with UW backing up D’Mitrik Trice at point guard. Davison is a proven ball handler and can finish at the rim, which is a perfect complement to Trice’s shooting.
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Davison will be joined by King in the backcourt. King will be fighting over minutes at shooting guard with sophomore Brevin Pritzl, who hasn’t quite proven he’s ready to start yet.
Pritzl averaged 1.9 PPG and shot 34 percent last season, which isn’t quite the level he should be at for someone with two years of collegiate play under his belt. King should be able to handle the ball and shoot from outside, which are much needed skills for the Badgers.
Joining the front court will be Reuvers. He joins Ethan Happ, Andy Van Vliet, Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas in the Badger’s front court and will likely receive a fair share of minutes. Unlike other players, Reuvers has a solid jump shot and will be able to stretch the floor.
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Reuvers will be key in replacing Vitto Brown as the team’s stretch big man. In addition to his jump shot, he was a capable rim protector, rebounder and defender in high school, and he’ll have a great mentor to develop those skills in Happ.
Speaking of Happ, the Badgers’ first team All-Big Ten forward isn’t going anywhere. He was tied for second on the team in 2016-17 with 14.0 PPG on an impressive .586 shooting and led the team with 9.0 RPG as well.
Happ was UW’s most reliable player in terms being able to score an easy basket when he was underneath the rim. He was not only the team’s best defender, but also one of the best in the conference last season and was recognized as such by making the Big Ten All-Defensive team.
Happ has only made a handful of shots outside of the paint in his entire Badger career and that is something he needs to change if he wants to take his game to the next level. He shot only 50 percent from the free throw line and did not attempt a single three.
With Koenig gone, the guy expected to take over the reigns as the starting point guard is D’Mitrik Trice. Trice spent his freshmen year backing up Koenig and did a pretty stellar job.
Trice made 38 three-pointers in 2016-17, which resulted in a 42 percent completion — the best on the team. He also put up a couple of rebounds and assists per game as well, which is pretty solid for a backup point guard that only got 18 minutes per game last year.
Trice will probably take on a much bigger role for the Badgers next year and potentially be an All-Big Ten guard in years to come.
The Badgers have a lot of talent and minutes to replace, but fortunately head coach Greg Gard went out and recruited some top local talent that should keep the team secure for years to come. I am expecting something alone the lines of another top four finish in the Big Ten as well as moving on to at least round two during March Madness.
The first game of the 2017-18 season is scheduled for October 30, and this season is sure to be an exciting season for all Badger fans.