The absence of Ethan Happ is conjuring up many questions about the future of the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (1-1) this season. It also is leaving many people skeptical about the where the offensive production will be coming from. This might be part of the reason why the Badgers were left out of the AP preseason top-25 poll to start the year. But the absence of Ethan Happ might just be a blessing in disguise for the Badgers.
In the 2018-2019 season, Ethan Happ started in 34 games playing a total of 1088 minutes. Not only did he rarely leave the floor, but the ball rarely ever left his hands either. Happ was responsible for putting up 24.9% of all shots taken by Wisconsin throughout the entire season.
Individually, Happ was efficient on the offensive side of the ball by shooting 53% from the field, converting 257 of his 485 field goal attempts. Happ was responsible for scoring 589 of the Badgers’ 2333 points all of last season. So yes, individually Happ scored a lot of points and produced a generous amount of the total offense for the Badgers, but the real question to ask is, how efficient was it?
The Badgers were scoring only 68.6 points per game last season. This was detailed with season lows of 46 points against Virginia, 52 points against Minnesota and Michigan, 56 points in a second meeting with Minnesota, 55 points against Michigan State and then a disappointing 54 points in their first-round exit of the NCAA tournament last season against Oregon. The Badgers ranked 277th out of 353 Division I college basketball teams in points per game last season.
Happ’s inability to step outside and shoot the three was also problematic for the Badgers last year as Happ found himself double-teamed in the post frequently. The constant pressure led to 104 turnovers by the big man and a very predictable offense to defend.
With all of this being said, this is no knock on Happ. He was a phenomenal athlete who accomplished a lot in his collegiate career and was one of the best players to ever play for Wisconsin. However, he undoubtedly slowed down the offensive efficiency for the Badgers due to the attention he drew on himself and his one-dimension style of play.
This is why the departure of Happ should lead to optimistic hope in Madison. Now Nate Reuvers will take over in the low post at the center position. Reuvers will provide a much more versatile approach to the offense with his ability to knock down the three along with his shot-blocking presence in the low post.
This year without Happ, the Badgers will be forced to share the ball more and look to have a much more balanced attack on the offensive. During their exhibition match against UW-La Crosse, the Badgers had five scorers in double figures, a balanced attack as Kobe King said.
“Even in our scrimmage we had pretty balanced scoring,” King said. “It could be anybody’s night.”
The Badgers will be forced to look to everyone on the court for scoring production this season. Their team is perfectly capable of producing big numbers with guys like D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison handling the ball, complemented by aggressive wings in Aleem Ford and King who will be looking to drive to the basket.
“We got guys who can kind of create and hit shots,” Kind said. “It‘s nice to have that kind of depth. It doesn’t really put a lot of pressure on one person. I think that will help us make a deep run.”
King is one of those players, and this season he will be looking to finally make his mark and establish himself as a dominant force in the Wisconsin offense.
“It‘s good to see that he is confident,” Head Coach Greg Gard said of King. “He had the whole offseason to prepare, where a year ago he didn’t.”
Kobe King — former Mr. Basketball of the state of Wisconsin — was sidelined due to an injury in his true freshman season, and then only played in a limited role coming off the bench last season. King was scoring 4.2 points per game in his 19 minutes per game.
“Kobe has worked, Kobe has improved his game, improved his body,” Gard said. “It‘s good to see him stepping up. He has had a good offseason and a good preseason. He is ready for his opportunity.”
Another major area the offense can improve on for this upcoming season is free-throw shooting. The Badgers only shot 64.8% on free throws last season, much of which came from Happ’s dismal 46.6% from the line.
“We got to get better at the line, and we will be,” King said. “The more we shoot in the Kohl Center, the better we will get. Coach Gard said we are all capable of making 80% of our free throws, so we will definitely grow in that area.”
A 15% increase in free throws would significantly help the offensive efficiency for the Badgers. Getting to the line is not the issue for the Badgers, as Coach Gard explained.
“That is step one, now we need to convert,” Gard said.
We will see what lays ahead for the Wisconsin offense and how they will perform this upcoming season against top tier defenses. According to RPI college basketball’s ranking of strength of schedule, the Badgers will be facing the 22nd toughest schedule in the nation, a difficult task given the team’s youth and inexperience.