2018-2019 Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball preview
The 2017-2018 was a tough one for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team. Anytime you lose four senior starters is a daunting task to overcome. That task gets even harder when you have injuries to overcome. D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King missed basically the entire season, and Brad Davison’s right shoulder kept popping out throughout the year. This combination doomed the team, and they missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1997-1998 season.
There is a lot of excitement surrounding this team heading into a new season, and rightly so. During the last six weeks or so, the team started to come together and play a lot better. They knocked off Purdue at home on Frank Kaminsky night, and played Michigan State very tightly on senior night and in the Big Ten tournament. With Ethan Happ back, this team is ready to prove that missing the tournament last year was a fluke and not the norm for Badger basketball going forward.
Key Players Lost: None
Senior Aaron Moesch graduated, and redshirt juniors Matt Ferris and T.J. Schlundt both decided to forgo their final season of eligibility after graduating. Andy Van Vliet has transferred to William and Mary for his senior season. But none of these four saw regular playing time last year. Van Vliet was initially the other starting forward, but he quickly fell out of the rotation.
Incoming Freshmen/Eligible Transfers: Carter Higginbottom, Joe Hedstrom, Taylor Currie, Tai Strickland; Trevor Anderson
Carter Higginbottom is a 6’0 point guard from Chicago, Illinois. He has great vision and is always looking to set up his teammates. But with a lot of guys competing for the backup point guard role, he needs to work on his jump shot if he wants to fill that role.
Joe Hedstrom will provide the height for this team, as the Hopkins, Minnesota native is 7’0. Hedstrom will look to use that height to his advantage and has a chance to pass up some seniors to become Ethan Happ’s backup, especially with Nate Reuvers appearing to keep his spot in Gard’s starting five.
Taylor Currie reclassified to join this team a year early. As a 6’8 forward from Clarkston, Michigan, Currie can bully you inside and score in the paint or he can take you outside and hit the three. That scoring ability could see him earn a spot in Greg Gard’s rotation.
Tai Strickland is the fourth and final true freshmen on this team, but he’s the only one I except to get regular playtime right away. The 6’2 point guard from Tampa, Florida can create his shot off the dribble and is pretty good at finishing around the rim. Does the last name sound familiar? It should. Tai is the son of former DePaul standout and 17 year NBA veteran, Rod Strickland.
Trevor Anderson is a transfer from Green Bay and after sitting out last year, he’s ready to see the court again. The 6’2 point guard from Stevens Point, Wisconsin started the first 20 games of the 2016-2017 season for Green Bay before having to sit out the rest of the season due to a back injury. Anderson is a flat-out scorer, as he isn’t afraid to fight through contact to score, and he also has a decent three-point shot.
Projected Starters: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Khalil Iverson, Nate Reuvers, Ethan Happ
After missing most of last season, D’Mitrik Trice will take over as the team’s starting point guard. The redshirt sophomore struggled with his shot last year, but he should get better looks this year with a more established team surrounding him.
Brad Davison turned into the team’s starting point guard last year as a true freshmen, but that was out of necessity. Now with a healthy right shoulder and playing shooting guard again, this scrappy fan favorite has a good chance at taking another step forward.
Senior Khalil Iverson might be a little undersized at 6’5 to be a small forward/power forward, but his athleticism more than makes up for it. While he’s never been known for his jump shot, his defense more than makes up for it. Iverson will be looking to add even more players to his poster collection before he leaves Madison.
Last season was supposed to be a redshirt season for Nate Reuvers so he could put on weight, but he ended up burning that redshirt due to the upperclassmen underperforming. He appeared in 28 games last year, and started 15 of the last 18 games. Reuvers showed a lot of potential last year, but was just too small to make a huge impact. Now that he’s added 25 pounds this offseason, this sophomore could be in for a huge year.
After testing the draft waters, the All American is back for his senior season. Ethan Happ is in great position to finish top three in most categories in Wisconsin history. Happ can impact the game from his post moves to defense to even passing. And if he develops even a decent jumpshot, he will be the best player in the nation.
Key Reserves: Brevin Pritzl, Kobe King, Aleem Ford
Redshirt junior Brevin Pritzl started most games last year due to injuries, and he did not disappoint. While he isn’t the best on the defensive end, his three-point shooting makes up for it. Expect Pritzl to be Gard’s top option off the bench this season.
A lot of hype surrounding Kobe King going into last year, but his season was quickly put to an end with a knee injury just 10 games into the season. King won the 2016-2017 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball award as the state’s top player, and you saw why in his limited action. He’s not afraid to drive in and bang down low with bigs, and he’s got a decent jump shot to help space the floor.
After taking a redshirt year the year before, Aleem Ford had a very good freshmen year. After Van Vliet got benched, Gard gave Ford the first chance at starting. At 6’9, he can score in a variety of ways. However, Ford underwent knee surgery on Halloween and is out indefinitely. But he is expected to be back at some point this season.
Season Prediction: 20-9 (13-7 in conference), 5th in conference, 7th seed in NCAA Tournament, Round of 32 elimination
Outside of at Xavier and at Marquette, this Badger team should be able to find its groove going into the new year and the heart of the Big Ten schedule. And thanks to a change in the Big Ten schedule, they will get an early taste of Big Ten basketball again this year, as they go to Iowa and host Rutgers in late November/early December.
The rest of the Big Ten schedule broke nicely for the Badgers this year. They don’t have to go to East Lansing or West Lafayette. While they do have to go on the road to play Indiana, they have beaten up on the Hoosiers this century. And while Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan are the teams to beat in the conference this year, the Badgers should be in the mix to be the fourth best team in the Big Ten and earn that double bye for the conference tournament.
This team also should be able to get back the NCAA tournament, anywhere from a six to a nine seed. And if given the right matchup against a top seed, Ethan Happ could lead this team to the second weekend of the tournament.
From an individual player point of view, Ethan Happ will win the Naismith player of the year award. I expect him to develop a decent mid range game this year, and that will put him over the edge. Brad Davison will also end the season as a member of the All Big Ten team. Being fully healthy, playing shooting guard again, and having a full year of experience will help Davison cause havoc on the opposition this year.
This Badger team has a lot of talent, led by an All American in Ethan Happ. If they can build of what they were doing at the end of last year , this could be a very scary team come March. Winter should be fun in Madison this year!