- Matt Cox
Key Returners: Ethan Happ, Brad Davison, D'Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson, Brevin Pritzl, Aleem Ford, Kobe King, Nate Reuvers
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Trevor Anderson (Green Bay transfer), Tai Strickland, Taylor Currie, Joe Hedstrom
Outlook: Over the last 20 years, only a handful of college basketball fan bases have been more spoiled than Badger nation. That's why last season's NCAA tournament hiatus must've been an unfamiliar and unsettling feeling for the UW faithful as the Badgers stumbled across the finish line with a sub .500 record for the first time since before Y2K.
It's time for Greg Gard to slam shut that forgettable 3rd act of his head coaching tenure and turn the page to year 4 - this next chapter ought to be labeled 'the Redemption'. Why? Well, for starters Ethan Happ, likely a unanimous 1st-team All-American selection, is back for his farewell tour. The decorated, do-it-all senior toyed with the idea of going pro this offseason, but his spotty jump shot gave NBA executives pause about his ability to be effective at the next level.
Setting aside that chronic case of free throw shooting woes - for as often as he gets to the stripe, it'd be nice if he could bump that career 56% conversion rate up into the 60s - Happ does pretty much everything, and then some, for this Wisconsin team. He possesses an advanced array of post moves, which makes one more year of honing his near-perfect craft a scary proposition for opposing Big Ten coaching staffs. The offense should continue to revolve around the 6'10 senior with many possessions keying on him getting a low-block or high-post touch to initiate the offense. Happ's passing effectiveness was on full display last season as he posted the 2nd highest assist rate in the Big Ten and his handle out in the open floor is shockingly smooth for a guy at his size (he will often haul in a rebound and bring the ball up himself).
But those who follow Wisconsin hoops closely know the patented swing offense is far from reliant on any one player to score. The continuous flex-screen and down-screen action is meant to put defenders in uncomfortable spots on the floor, whether it be pulling a slower big out to the 3-point line or forcing a smaller guard to defend the post. This is where the promising 2nd year class of Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Kobe King are all tailor-made to thrive. The 6'10 Reuvers struggled to find his outside stroke last year, but most scouting reports project him as a deadly stretch shooter at the 4-spot. He and Ford are perfect complements to Happ at the other forward position with their ability to step away and knock down open shots on the perimeter. On the flip side, the burly 6'5 200 pound King, who should be fully recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him for the majority of his freshman season, can bully smaller guards in the paint. And while all four carry high recruiting pedigrees, Davison is truly the crown jewel of this trio - and for those who watched him in spurts last year, it's easy to see why he's an invaluable weapon for the Sconnies.
Whenever the swing motion offense fails to produce a good look in the first 20-25 seconds of the shot-clock, the Badgers will look to generate a late possession shot via high ball screen action. For this to be effective, it requires a premier 1-v-1 shotmaker spearheading the pick-n-roll who can make a contested pull-up jumper if the primary roll man is guarded. Wisconsin fans got the pleasure of watching Bronson Koenig master this role for years with his trademark crossover-and-pull from 18-22 feet with the shot-clock winding down - and now, it's this exact shot that Davison has already started to polish himself, despite playing most of his freshman season with a bum shoulder (do mind the poor video editing - both of these go in, I swear):
The rest of core rotation will be rounded out by three upperclassmen, each of whom play a distinct, niche role for this team: D'Mitrik Trice (lead ball handler and lockdown perimeter defender), Brevin Pritzl (floor-spacing sharpshooter) and Khalil Iverson (versatile hyper-athlete). Trice and Pritzl each had an up-and-down 2018 campaign, but expect both to bounce back in a big way in 2019. Pritzl converted a respectable 35% of his triples last year, which is impressive when you factor in his nightmarish cold streak of 10 straight misses against Northwestern and Maryland in early February. Trice missed the majority of his sophomore season with a foot injury - and was inconsistent as a starter when he was healthy - but should have a major burden lifted off his shoulders with Davison and incoming transfer Trevor Anderson able to take on some of the primary ball handling duties.
Iverson, now entering his final year in a Wisconsin uniform, appears to be a known commodity at this point in his collegiate career. While he did take a step forward last season with a considerable jump in playing time, his value on both ends of the floor is pretty much set in stone. The good: Iverson is a freak athlete who impacts the game with his activity on the offensive glass and is a position-less defensive weapon on the other side of the ball. The not so good: Most diehard UW fans will attest to the fact that his abominable jump shot (he was 0/24 from 3 last year!) limits his offensive value and despite his effectiveness as an off-ball cutter, Iverson's inability to stretch the floor further constrains the space for Happ to operate in the middle of the floor .
Bottom Line: There's no denying that this is a pivotal year for Greg Gard, especially after last year's debacle, but betting against this roster continuity and the institutional success of Wisconsin basketball would be foolish in 2019. The injury bug ate the Badgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner last season, forcing Gard to play as many as three walk-ons together on the floor during some stretches. Happ will once again be the meal-ticket, but it's Davison who has the potential to really move the needle as the go-to playmaker on the perimeter. The other puzzle pieces should fall in line seamlessly around the inside-out punch of Davison and Happ, especially with a whole year under their belts perfecting the art of the swing offense and adapting to their optimal role offensively.