In what will undoubtedly be an emotional night for players, coaches and fans alike, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (20-9, 12-6 Big Ten) will play one last home game Thursday night against the Iowa Hawkeyes (21-8, 10-8).
It will also be the last time Badger fans will get to see Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas share the floor at the Kohl Center. Together, these three have been through just about everything a college basketball player could expect to go through.
Each played their first year at Wisconsin during a time of change, but were still able to reach the Sweet Sixteen in both 2016 and 2017.
Happ has been around even longer. As a redshirt freshman under Bo Ryan during his first season, Happ faced the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker day-in and day-out in practice and was there for the monumental Final Four win over Kentucky.
But, despite all their wins, the group experienced struggles under a host of young players last season, finishing just 15-18 on the year.
Throughout last year, the team was brought together under a collective goal to bounce back better than ever in 2019 — thereby making Happ, Iverson and Thomas’ last season a special one.
When asked about his biggest takeaway from his legendary UW career, Happ was quick to answer that was the relationships he built with his teammates.
“I’ve been lucky to have spent five years with really good people. And because of my experience with guys like Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown and Frank, I know the relationships will go way beyond Badger basketball,” Happ said.
Those friendships have obviously been paying dividends this season, as Wisconsin has made a 180 flip since last year and seems primed to make a deep postseason run.
Before they can do that, however, they’ll have to go through an Iowa team who will be a change of pace from what Wisconsin has seen lately.
Between the matchups with Northwestern, Indiana and Penn State, Happ and Nate Reuvers didn’t have too many big bodies to battle with down low.
But Iowa is very different from those small ball clubs. Boasting both Tyler Cook — 6-foot-9, 253 pounds — and Luka Garza—6-foot-11, 245 pounds — as their best players, Iowa has some size.
Cook, a 2018 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention nominee, is coming into Thursday night’s matchup averaging 15.8 points and 8.1 rebounds a game and very well could cause problems for Reuvers down low.
Meanwhile, Garza — a sophomore averaging 12.8 points and 4.6 rebounds — could throw a wrench in what Wisconsin has been able to do against other smaller teams.
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Because of his height, Garza should be able to hold his own down low against Happ, which will likely allow the Hawkeyes to bring fewer double teams and stay tight on Wisconsin shooters.
This could take away some open looks for Badger guards such as Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice, but neither of the two appear worried about any changes in the game plan.
“We try not to change too much, and want to keep playing inside-out, Wisconsin basketball,” Davison said. “We’re always working on getting it to Ethan and letting him get his man in foul trouble to help open up more opportunities for everyone.”
Happ has been one of the focal points of the Wisconsin basketball program ever since he started getting consistent minutes, so look for Gard to feed his big man on Senior Night.
Also, watch out for Iverson and Thomas to get big-time minutes over their younger counterparts, as they have been just as important to this program as anyone else.
You can catch the game live Thursday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN, or listen to it on 100.9, Badger Sports Network.