University of Wisconsin sophomore D’Mitrik Trice has been absent since Dec. 9 after a right-foot injury ruled the starting point guard out.

Now, Trice appears to be nearing a return, following clearance for practice last week.

According to Bucky’s 5th Quarter, UW men’s basketball coach Greg Gard said he was unsure as to when Trice could return to action. But Trice’s progress thus far hints that a return could be coming soon.

“I’ll visit with our training staff here after practice and see what they’re recommending, where he’s at, how he feels here today after practice,” Gard said. “We haven’t been given a definitive time yet—how soon it will be, how much it will be, when it is when he does get a chance to come back. He is on somewhat of a pitch count here today so we tried to limit it and ease him back in.”

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Originally, Trice’s injury timeline was speculated to be at least a month from his surgery in mid-December.  Despite Gard’s non-committal response at a return-date one could assume that Trice will be ready within the coming weeks. But should he play?

Since Trice’s injury, the Badgers have gone 6-5, but mostly against subpar competition. The only major conference team they were able to defeat was Illinois last week.

With a NCAA tournament bid seeming more and more out of reach, some may believe it would make sense to sit Trice for the remainder of the season to allow more time for the foot to completely heal.

While this strategy may prove valid to a team with experienced role players, Wisconsin’s young roster needs all the veteran leadership they can get. Since Trice’s injury, the Badgers have looked unsure on the court, with players often deciding to pass to the star forward Ethan Happ in double coverage rather than looking for or creating better shots.

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Brad Davison has replaced Trice as the primary ball handler during his 11-game absence.  Over this time, Davison has done his best to distribute the ball, garnering 34 assists.

But in doing so, Davison has also turned the ball over 35 times. For comparison, during his 10 games this season, Trice has 23 assists to only 10 turnovers.

For a team that has historically prided itself in basketball fundamentals, Davison’s turnovers are simply too high at the point guard position. While the freshman shows great promise for the future, his current role is probably best as an off ball shooter.

Even with Wisconsin’s tournament chances appearing bleak, a more experienced facilitator like Trice would help teach a young and impressionable roster how to take care of the basketball going forward.

Wisconsin has just entered the bulk of their Big Ten schedule with 10 games still remaining in the regular season. Even if they ran the table in these games, their tournament hopes would still be in question. Still — a slim chance remains if the Badgers are able to get hot, win the Big Ten tournament and receive the automatic bid for March Madness.

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With this possibility still on the table, Coach Gard should reintegrate Trice as soon as he’s healthy and at least end this season on a positive note.

Despite a year of turmoil, the future still looks bright in Madison. Next year will be Ethan Happ’s final season with the team, injured guard Kobe King will be returning and the other young players on the roster will have hopefully progressed in their development.  That being said, Wisconsin has made 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments and Trice’s presence will give them their best shot at continuing that incredible run.

Though Trice’s status has not been updated since his return to practice last week, his next opportunity to play would be Thursday, Feb. 1 in Madison.