Thus far, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (14-6, 8-5 Big Ten) has had quite a successful season, remaining in the national rankings and near the top of the Big Ten. Wisconsin power forward and senior Nate Reuvers, who was a focal point of last year’s team, has endured a prolonged slump this season and has been demoted from the starting rotation to the team’s sixth man.
Reuvers got off to a strong start this season, tallying 18 points and nine rebounds against Eastern Illinois in the first game of the season, but the 6-foot-11-inch senior has not matched those totals since. He has been replaced in the starting rotation by sophomore forward Tyler Wahl, and it seems to be mainly due to a lack of confidence on Reuvers’ part.
While fellow senior and Ohio State transfer Micah Potter, a 6-foot-10-inch big man, has emerged of late, recording a 23-point and 12-rebound double-double in a Jan. 27 matchup against Maryland, Reuvers’ game has slipped. Reuvers scored just five points in the Maryland win and has only scored in double figures four times since Dec. 4. Lately, Reuvers has allowed Potter to take over as the team’s go-to big man in the post.
Reuvers’ struggles can be attributed primarily to a lack of confidence. Even though he is getting open looks, the shots just aren’t falling, and he is becoming steadily less willing to shoot. Reuvers needs to rediscover his shot, and fast, as he has the potential to be one of the Badgers’ most reliable three-point shooters, even if he has not displayed it this season.
As far as postseason success goes, Reuvers is clearly a huge part of the Badgers’ offense because of his ability to stretch the floor and protect the rim. If he produces, the Badgers will become nearly impossible to stop defensively with the duo of Reuvers and Potter down low. If he doesn’t produce, the Badgers will have a tougher time keeping opponents out of the paint and will be forced to rely on other players to score, such as Wahl or senior point guard D’Mitrik Trice.
On paper, Reuvers matches up well against other big men in the Big Ten, such as Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, because he has the capability to stretch the floor and shoot. This forces ground-bound big men like Cockburn to venture out of the paint, opening up driving lanes for Trice and senior guard Brad Davison.
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Unfortunately, reality has played out differently. Reuvers has struggled to find his rhythm all season, looking un-guardable one minute and pedestrian the next. Reuvers presents all sorts of matchup problems when his shot is falling. When his shot is not falling, Reuvers needs to find more ways to be active and involved on offense by crashing the boards and deterring shots while avoiding foul trouble.
In the absence of a primary offensive threat outside of Potter, Wisconsin needs someone to step up and fill the void as the team’s go-to scorer. Trice, who had a hot start to the season, has been enduring a scoring slump of his own lately.
While the Big Ten certainly presents some formidable challenges in terms of skilled centers who can dominate down low — Cockburn, Iowa’s Luka Garza, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis — Wisconsin’s combination of Potter and Reuvers should give them an advantage over most other teams who only roll out one primary option at center.
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The Badgers should look to involve Reuvers down the stretch by putting him in position to succeed through pick-and-roll plays which will free him up to get open looks from beyond the arc. Since the Badgers’ 3-point woes continue to plague them down the stretch — 4-for-24 on 3-point shots against Illinois Saturday — establishing Reuvers early and often will complicate opponents’ game plans and inevitably lead to stronger first-half finishes for the Badgers.
Reuvers is a skilled midrange shooter, and one way to get him open is if the Badgers’ guards start hitting shots from behind the arc. If Davison and Trice get going early on, that takes the pressure off Reuvers to produce and enables him to settle down and play like his old self.
One key piece to Wisconsin’s hopes for success in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament this season is the play of Reuvers — more specifically, his shooting. The Badgers’ defense has been solid for most of the season, and they also control the ball well, ranking third in the country with just 9.2 turnovers per game. With those two areas covered, all that is left is for them to hit some shots, which is where Reuvers can come in handy.
In order for a deep NCAA Tournament run, it’s imperative that Reuvers rediscovers his stroke to help fuel the Badgers toward postseason success.