In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.
Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the frontcourt for Wisconsin. The Nigel Hayes era has concluded in Madison and forward Vitto Brown has graduated as well. However, Ethan Happ is set to lead the young Badgers and is in line to be one of the best players in the conference.
‘BTPowerhouse Preview’ - Wisconsin Frontcourt
- 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Ethan Happ (All-Big Ten First Team, All-Big Ten Defensive Team), Nigel Hayes (All-Big Ten Third Team)
- Departures: Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown
- Additions: Nate Reuvers
- Top Player: Ethan Happ
Though Hayes’ career may never have panned out how many envisioned, the forward was a valuable asset in Wisconsin’s frontcourt. Behind Happ, Hayes was the Badgers’ second best rebounder last season, with an average of 6.6 rebounds per game. Even though Hayes was sub-par at the free throw line, his ability to draw contact down low was significantly better than any other Wisconsin player last season. In fact, Hayes attempted 230 free throws last season. Happ shot the second most free throws on the team last season, with only 162.
Hayes’ contributions will be missed in Madison. But, his departure gives Happ the opportunity to completely dominate Wisconsin’s frontcourt. Happ was the Badgers’ second leading scorer last season with 14 points per game and led Wisconsin in rebounding, averaging nine per game. With Hayes out of the picture, both of these numbers should increase. There is no reason why Happ won’t lead Wisconsin in both scoring and rebounding. The focus of the Badgers’ offense will be getting Happ the ball. It wouldn’t be surprising, and honestly should be expected, if Happ averaged 20+ points per game and double-digit rebounds.
Even though he lacks experience, the first guy in line to help Happ contribute in the frontcourt should be incoming freshman Nate Reuvers. Since there are high hopes surrounding Reuvers, and Wisconsin lacks experience as a whole, the 6’10 forward will have the chance to make an immediate impact.
Reuvers is a four-star recruit listed in ESPN’s Top 100 at 86th overall. The big-bodied forward from Lakeville, Minnesota averaged 25.9 points and 12.3 rebounds per game during his senior season at Lakeville North High School. Reuvers received plenty of offers from schools such as Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Marquette. Reuvers is also the first ESPN Top 100 recruit to choose Wisconsin since Hayes in 2013.
Barring any injuries or unforeseen circumstances, Happ will start each and every game for the Badgers next season and will likely play nearly 40 minutes each game. If Reuvers flashes the potential that earned him his elite recruiting rank, he will most likely start the majority of Wisconsin’s games well. Especially if he can immediately contribute in the rebounding department. This is because, other than Happ, the Badgers don’t really have any particularly strong rebounders.
Wisconsin has a few frontcourt players returning from last season: Charles Thomas IV, Andy Van Vliet, Aaron Moesch, and Alex Illikainen. None of which really contributed much last season. Thomas and Illikainen were the most involved out of the four, but neither averaged more than eight minutes per game
Between Illikainen and Thomas, Illikainen probably has the highest ceiling between the two. While he hasn’t really been involved yet, Illikainen was Wisconsin’s top recruit in 2015, listed as a four-star power forward rated 80 overall. Regardless, both will primarily be used as role players off the bench.
On the frequent occasions that they aren’t starting, Thomas and Illikainen will be the top frontcourt options off the bench for Greg Gard.
Other than them, Wisconsin has junior Andy Van Vliet and senior Aaron Moesch. Considering there is a chance the Badgers will often have to stretch deep into their roster in order to find production next season, these guys’ roles will increase a little bit. However, it’s tough to imagine either being impact players.
Van Vliet played only 3.4 minutes per contest last season. Similarly, Moesch played only 2.2. Most of these minutes came during the closing minutes of games in which the outcome was already decided as well.
So, it’s safe to assume that Thomas and Illikainen will be the frequent subs off the bench for Happ (during his few minutes out of the game) and Reuvers. Thomas and Illikainen will definitely have the opportunity to make their presence known though. If they can play effectively, Gard will definitely be happy to use either to give freshman Nate Reuvers a break and lighten his load.
At the end of the day, the frontcourt player to really watch on Wisconsin is obviously Ethan Happ. Not only will he lead the frontcourt, he will almost singlehandedly carry the Badgers as a team. There may not be another team in the Big Ten that will rely on a single player next season as much as Wisconsin will on Happ. Because of his opportunity to take over every game for the Badgers, Happ will definitely be in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year this season.