In the months leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the 'BTPowerhouse 25,' which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.
Today's edition will take a glimpse at Ethan Happ of the Wisconsin Badgers, who checks in at No. 2 in the rankings. Happ is a preseason All-American and the unquestioned leader of a young Wisconsin team that is looking to overcome heavy departures and continue its consistent success.
'BTPowerhouse 25' - #2 Ethan Happ:
- Eligibility: Junior
- Career Totals: 72 games, 2,009 minutes, 951 points, 610 rebounds, 148 assists
- 2016-’17 Averages: 27.8 min, 14.0 pts, 9.0 rebs, 2.8 asts, 1.2 blks, 1.8 stls
- Positional Role: Forward/Center
Everyone who pays attention to college basketball knows who Happ is by now. The 6-foot-10 big man has started as fast as anyone in Wisconsin history through his first two seasons on the court. Since redshirting during Wisconsin’s run to the 2015 Final Four, Happ has started all 72 Wisconsin games, helping the Badgers compile a 49-23 record and reach a pair of Sweet 16s.
Happ has been named an All-American by the Associated Press, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
The Milan, Ill. native has also started to accumulate some numbers. Happ was the only player in the country to lead his team in points (14.6 per game), rebounds (8.6), assists (3.0), blocks (1.6) and steals (2.3) during conference play last season. He is second in Wisconsin history in points through a player’s sophomore year, with his 951 points trailing only Michael Finley’s 1,001 from 1991-92 and 1992-93. Happ has also grabbed 610 rebounds through his first two years, easily the highest mark for a Badger.
The 2017-’18 season will be a new test for Happ, who will be the unquestioned go-to guy at Wisconsin after the graduation of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. There’s no question Happ is going to put up big numbers — he’ll need to for Wisconsin to find success — but it’ll be interesting to see how that develops and how he has improved his game.
It’s kind of hard to nail down exactly what allows Happ to be so successful, but a lot of it revolves around instinct, activity and footwork. Happ is always moving on both ends of the floor, pivoting and pump-faking on the offensive end of the floor while fighting around opponents and swiping at balls on the defensive end.
That defensive activity, in particular, led him to be named to the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team last season. Happ averaged 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per game last season. His 130 career steals are 11th in school history, and his ability to take the ball away is especially uncanny for a player his size. He does it with feel, anticipation, and what a lot of times could be considered over-aggressiveness.
That aggressiveness, particularly in the form of going for steals without having his body in position, has led to foul trouble in the past. It’ll be interesting to see if some of that defensive aggressiveness is curtailed this season, as the Badgers will need him on the floor as much as possible.
Offensively, Happ is unlike any modern player. He hasn’t attempted a three-pointer and has taken just five shots outside of the lane during his career, connecting on a pair of mid-range jumpers last season.
With that being said, Happ isn’t necessarily one dimensional. Sure, he primarily works deep on the block, catching inside and pivoting until he finds an angle, then finishing with either hand. His .564 career field goal percentage, including .568 last season, is currently second in Wisconsin history. Happ’s finishing around the basket was much improved last season, as he added strength and also seemed to have a better feel for angles and how to use the basket to help him get his shot off.
But it’s not only deep catches and up-and-unders. Happ is also proficient at catching mid-range, facing up and beating his man off the dribble. He typically doesn’t blow straight by them, but he has enough ball-handling ability and quickness to get to his spot and get a shot up. Some of the most exciting — if not nerve-wracking -- Happ plays are when he grabs a defensive rebound and goes coast-to-coast. No matter how uncomfortable it looks, there aren’t many true centers in the country that can do that.
Areas for Improvement
For a guy who is one of the best players in the country and a future professional, there are some fundamental areas to improve. As mentioned above, Happ doesn’t have a jump shot (last we saw). Supposedly that is in the works, but there is a lot of work to be done before defenses start respecting it. Happ didn’t show an outside shot during Wisconsin’s August trip to New Zealand and Australia, and it’s likely he won’t have one this year.
Where he could really help Wisconsin out is by becoming a consistent free-throw shooter. For a guy who gets to the line as much as he does, knocking down more than 50 percent of his free throws would go a long way for the Badgers.
Happ shot 64.3 percent (108-168) from the line as a freshman and just 50.0 percent (81-162) last season. He appeared to turn a bit of a corner late last season, but it was clear that he’s still fighting himself at the line and he air-balled a free throw during that summer trip to Australia. He’s not going to be a knock-down shooter, but if he can get that number somewhere into the high 60s or 70, Wisconsin is going to benefit.
While he needs work on those skills, another area of improvement is going to be how he adjusts to being the go-to guy. With the loss of Hayes, Koenig, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter and Jordan Hill, the young Badgers are going to lean on Happ as much as they have ever leaned on any one individual. Certainly the most since Jordan Taylor was running the show in 2011-12.
Happ’s going to have to work for everything he gets on the offensive end, although that doesn’t feel like it’s going to be an issue for someone with his energy level. He’ll be on the radar of NBA scouts this season, and it’ll go a long way if he can prove he can make things happen when opposing defenses are locked in on him.
Happ is going to put up big numbers this season, continuing to fill out the stat sheet and climb Wisconsin’s record books. It’s likely we’ll see his scoring average increase due to more offensive opportunities with the departures of Brown, Hayes, Hill, Koenig and Showalter.
Happ will undoubtedly be a first-team All-Big Ten selection, but if the Badgers can put together another successful season, Happ is going to pick up All-American nods and be one of the most-discussed players in the country.
Happ’s also likely to receive some NBA talk this spring. It’s a possibility, depending on what he wants to do. It’d be a tall ask to get Happ into the lottery, but he has the ability to be drafted at some point if he chooses to leave after his junior year. There are plenty of players in the NBA with his offensive deficiencies, he just needs to prove what he does bring to the table will carry over to the next level.
‘BT Powerhouse 25’ Rankings:
- #26-31 - Players That Just Missed The Cut
- #24 - Juwan Morgan (Indiana Hoosiers)
- #24 - Dakota Mathias (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #23 - Jordan Bohannon (Iowa Hawkeyes)
- #22 - Anthony Cowan (Maryland Terrapins)
- #21 - Reggie Lynch (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #20 - Kevin Huerter (Maryland Terrapins)
- #19 - Carsen Edwards (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #18 - Robert Johnson (Indiana Hoosiers)
- #17 - Isaac Haas (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #16 - Tyler Cook (Iowa Hawkeyes)
- #15 - Justin Jackson (Maryland Terrapins)
- #14 - Jaren Jackson (Michigan State Spartans)
- #13 - Corey Sanders (Rutgers Scarlet Knights)
- #12 - Jae’Sean Tate (Ohio State Buckeyes)
- #11 - Tony Carr (Penn State Nittany Lions)
- #10 - Scottie Lindsey (Northwestern Wildcats)
- #9 - Amir Coffey (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #8 - Jordan Murphy (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #7 - Nick Ward (Michigan State Spartans)
- #6 - Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern Wildcats)
- #5 - Moritz Wagner (Michigan Wolverines)
- #4 - Vincent Edwards (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #3 - Nate Mason (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #2 - Ethan Happ (Wisconsin Badgers)
- #1 - to be continued...