Ethan Happ has been the unquestioned leader of the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team over the past three seasons. As a two-time All-American and one of the best players in college basketball, Happ established himself as a cornerstone for the Badgers.
His senior year was one of hope, frustration and ultimate disappointment after earning a five seed in the NCAA tournament only to be upset in the first round by Oregon.
Coming into 2019-20, Wisconsin is still in search of an identity. There’s so many possible storylines — pretty and ugly alike — as we get closer to that November 8th season tip-off.
Is Nate Reuvers what Happ was to Frank Kaminsky? Can a Brad Davison-D’Mitrik Trice backcourt make the leap? How good can Aleem Ford and Kobe King be and when will we start to see it? Will the NCAA ever free Micah Potter?
These are the questions the selection committee will be asking all season long, because while this Wisconsin team has experience, they’ve never had to do it without Happ. The national media doesn’t have much faith in this team either, as Wisconsin failed to receive even one vote for the preseason AP Top 25.
Reuvers has shown he has the basic tools to be a star in the Big Ten, but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Throughout his career, the 6 foot 11 inch junior has faced questions about how his thinner frame minimizes his impact down on the block.
The forward has always been a great help-side defender and also shoots the three at a 38% clip. Now listed at 240 pounds — up from from 210 last year — Reuvers should be able to hold his own against stronger opponents and build on his 1.8 blocks per game last year.
Normally big men work from the inside and try to add a three-ball to their arsenal later on, but in his case it’s about being willing and able to step inside the arc and put a body on someone.
Head Coach Greg Gard had it easy last year. He’d start every possession by dropping it down low to his All-American workhorse and letting him work his magic while the guards got open looks from off-ball screens.
But those days are over, and while the Davison-Trice tandem will remain solid on the defensive end, at least one of them is going to have to up their offensive output.
Barring a big leap from Reuvers, Brad Davison will be the new face of the Wisconsin Badgers. His pesky defensive prowess and sometimes annoying charge-taking has made him a fan favorite since the day he stepped on campus. But he’s not the best at creating shots for himself or others.
Davison averaged a mere 1.8 assists per contest last year and isn’t one of those guys you can rely on get a bucket whenever he wants. He shot 35% from three — but again, a lot of those looks were open because all the attention was on Happ.
Trice is the same in many ways. The redshirt junior shoots the three at a high clip at — you guessed it — 38%, but struggles fighting through contact as a smaller guard. Height is obviously not something Trice can work on, but utilizing his quickness as the smallest man on the floor is something Gard needs to emphasize.
Another guard who may be able to contribute is redshirt junior Trevor Anderson. The Stevens Point native has been waiting for his chance for two years now since transferring from Green Bay and tearing his ACL.
As a freshman with the Phoenix, Anderson started 20 games and put up 9.8 points per game. Things have been tough on the guard to say the least, but Wisconsin fans should see him back to full strength this season.
Moving on through the roster, the Badgers don’t necessarily have a ton of wing depth, but breakout seasons from Ford and King could help cover that up. Their numbers haven’t always stood out, but it’s easy to see the potential oozing in the four-star recruits.
At 6 foot 8 with arms that span for miles, Ford may have the most potential of anyone on the roster because of his sniper from downtown. Two years ago he shot over 40% from range, and while that plummeted down to 29% last season, the shot is still there.
To really expand his game, however, Ford actually needs to step in from the arc. By hovering around the outside, the redshirt junior fails to utilize his size effectively, and a little more aggression would be beneficial to the whole Badger offense.
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If you’ve followed the Badgers the last few years, you know about the Kobe King hype. The redshirt sophomore from La Crosse has shown flashes of greatness, but knee problems seem to limit his athleticism a bit after missing the 2017-18 season.
When healthy, King is one of Wisconsin’s most dangerous weapons on both ends, and could be the guy with the most to gain in 2020.
Last but not least is the Potter situation. The redshirt junior started 16 games in two seasons with The Ohio State, but transferred to UW before last season. And while he sat out all last season, the NCAA still deemed him ineligible to play the first half of this season.
On the bright side, the 6 foot 10 forward will get to bring his defense and rebounding to the Badgers starting Dec. 21st.
This season is eerily similar to the 2015-16 campaign after Kaminsky and Sam Dekker left. it’s all about who’s going to step up and produce. If no one is up to the challenge, the 2019-2020 campaign won’t be pretty.