The Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team opens their season Friday, November 10th at the Kohl Center versus South Carolina State. Last season had high expectations, but ultimately ended in a heartbreaking loss to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen. Despite the loss in the Sweet Sixteen in March, The past few of seasons of Badger Basketball have seen success. They’ve had 1 championship game appearance in 2014, and a couple of final four and elite eight appearances. However, in that time, they’ve lost a hall of fame coach in Bo Ryan, NBA players Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, and other Badger stars such as Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Zak Showalter. The 2017-2018 Badgers team will only return one regular starter this year, Ethan Happ.
This season however, the expectations are different. Instead of being one of the favorites to win the Big Ten, preseason pollsters have them at 7th for the Big Ten, some picking them to finish as low as 9th. While outside sources write them off before the season even begins, the players in the Badgers locker room know they have the pieces on the team to come together and exceed expectations. Their schedule has some tough opponents such as Xavier, Yale, and possibly UCLA, before the Badgers open up Big Ten play in late December versus Ohio State and Penn State. Then again in early January, they finish out the season taking on the rest of the Big Ten. In between these games, the Badgers do have some gimmies that will be essential to building confidence for the players, as well as development for the younger players. The Big Ten will be a challenge this season. Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue are all ranked in the preseason AP top 25; with Michigan state at 2, Minnesota at 15, Northwestern at 19 and Purdue at 20 respectively. Wisconsin will have a tough January and February, but if this team can gel quickly and play smart basketball; they will give these teams a run for their money, and prove the Badgers are still a force to be reckoned with. The schedule has high and lows, and will challenge the Badgers all season long. Players new and old will play a pivotal role in the Badgers success this season.
Ethan Happ will be the backbone of this Badgers team this year. Happ was a very good player last year, averaging 13.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists,1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks in Big Ten play, which were all team highs. Ethan Happ also earned All-American honors last year, and he will have continued success this season. Without the other star players from previous years around, the pressure is on him to be the star and leader of this team. This upcoming season, he has the potential to be one of the best in the country. ESPN ranked him at number 2 in their top 50 best players in the country poll, and every indication shows he will live up to those expectations. Ethan Happ will be the heart of this team, but he will need his supporting cast for the Badgers to be a solid team.
Returning Players such as Khalil Iverson and D’Mitrik Trice will also need to step up and be ready to make big plays, because defenses will be focused on Ethan Happ throughout the season, which will include double teams. Andy Van Vliet made his decision to stay with the Badgers after barely playing last year, is looking to have his breakout season, which would be a tremendous help both offensively and defensively. Sophomore Brevin Pritzl is a player they’ll be expecting good rebounding and defense from, as well as consistent production on offense. Charlie Thomas will be subbing in and out of the game for Ethan Happ, and he needs to make the most of those minutes and play smart basketball on both ends of the floor. The 3 point ball will be essential this year to the Badgers success, mainly because double teams in the paint will leave more open perimeter shots. Defensively, the whole team needs to rebound, play fast and strong in transition, and play sound defense around the basket. Also, someone needs to emerge as a late game closer, which will most likely be Iverson, Trice or King, to make up for the loss of Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson. Each players took some time this off season to improve their game, which will be crucial to the Badgers success this season. Aside from returning players, incoming freshman will also have roles to play.
One freshman, Kobe King will be looking to continue his preseason success and have a big year for the Badgers. King has played exceptional in preseason games so far, including scoring a team high 17 in the last game vs UW Stout, and he is only going to get better as the season, and as his career goes on. Brad Davison has also shown glimpses of what he can bring to the team. Both King and Davison have made rookie mistakes in the preseason, which will hopefully subside with maturity and more time in games. Kobe King and Brad Davison both look ready to step up, and help the upperclassmen make this a good Badgers team. Another new player, redshirt freshman Aleem Ford will also need to step up, particularly on offense, whether its 2s or 3s. Nate Reuvers is another freshman who the Badgers have high hopes for. Coach Greg Gard said after the final preseason game vs UW-Stout that he’s unsure whether Nate will play or redshirt this season however. No matter who is on the floor, each Badger needs to find a way to make plays this season, and play together well as a team.
If the Badgers can play cohesive, smart basketball, they could potentially make some noise in the Big Ten this year, and possibly in March during the tournament. This Badgers team is poised to blow everyone’s expectations out of the water, and continue to be one of the best college basketball programs in the country. However, how good this team can really be remains to be seen. This will be a different Badgers team than we have seen as of recent years, and they will have to find their own identity together. This Badger team will need a “next man up” mentality, and everyone from senior to freshman will have to play their part. Friday the games get real, and that’s when we’ll start to find out what this Badgers team is made of, and how far they can take this season. No matter how the season goes, this team will only get better, and will be a fun to watch all season long.