This story is the first of a two-part series regarding player evaluations for the 2018-’19 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team. The second segment will focus on players who have lacked consistency for head coach Greg Gard.
The Wisconsin Badgers have established themselves as a legitimate threat across the nation perhaps a little earlier than expected.
Wisconsin bouncing back from a forgettable season and improving immensely was highly anticipated. However, the Badgers have hit the ground running faster than many assumed.
At least in the eyes of the Associated Press, that is the case. Wisconsin jumped 10 spots to No. 12 entering the fifth week of the season. Greg Gard’s squad was unranked to begin the season, but have caught national attention from dominating the early season.
The Badgers have won three consecutive games since dropping a competitive match against then-No.4 Virginia. The win streak includes victories over NC State at home and the dangerous Iowa Hawkeyes on the road.
With four games remaining until Big Ten play has fully commenced, Wisconsin has positioned itself to enter the top 10 if it can earn a key victory at Marquette. Western Kentucky on the road is a game to watch as well.
To put the Badgers’ ideal start in perspective, let’s categorize how each player has performed individually thus far.
-Most Valuable Player: Ethan Happ.
Obviously, Happ has been the MVP in Madison so far. That likely will likely remain the same as the season progresses.
The forward has been Gard’s most valuable asset since the beginning of last season. Happ’s NBA draft stock and case for Big Ten Player of the Year have increased due to a phenomenal go so far this season.
Happ had an incredible season one year ago, so it’s impressive alone that he has played significantly better.
The Illinois native is averaging a comfortable double-double, 17.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Happ recorded a double-double in each of Wisconsin’s first seven games and has been nearly unstoppable in the paint.
Happ’s free throw shooting is still abysmal, and it seems it will never improve. But, with a low post move like Happ’s, poor free throw shooting is compensated for.
To truly attract NBA teams, it would be ideal for the forward to develop his outside shot a bit. However, for the time being, Happ brings more than enough to the table at the collegiate level.
-Most Improved Player: D’Mitrik Trice.
The redshirt sophomore’s potential was never in doubt. However, when Trice went down with a season-ending injury last year, the time in which the guard would exhibit this potential again was unknown.
Well, Trice didn’t need any time to get re-adjusted this season. Trice has consistently blown up the stat sheets and has been Wisconsin’s best shooter by a wide margin.
Trice is scoring when it counts too. The guard put Iowa away last week with a cold-blooded three in the final minute. Then, Trice delivered a dagger against Rutgers with 58 ticks left.
Trice’s 17 points per game rank slightly below Happ for the team lead. The sophomore has scored at least 20 in four games this season.
Redshirt junior guard Brevin Pritzl anticipated being Wisconsin’s most lethal 3-point threat. Instead, Trice has been the Badgers’ 3-point specialist, while also providing so much more on the court.
Trice has solidified himself as Wisconsin’s most reliable shooter. Theoretically, if Happ has fouled out in a game when the Badgers need to score in the closing seconds, Wisconsin’s best bet is putting the ball in Trice’s hands.
-Ready to see more: Kobe King, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford, Trevor Anderson.
Wisconsin has a hand full of players who have flashed effectiveness but haven’t done so on a consistent basis.
King, Reuvers, and Ford all appear to be close to making that big leap.
King’s minutes have increased from last season, which will aid the sophomore guard’s development. For the most part though, King hasn’t been much of a factor this season.
The guard has scored five or fewer points in two-thirds of Wisconsin’s games this season. It’s not as if King is playing poorly. He just isn’t really forcing the issue. When he shoots, King has been efficient. The guard has converted 53 percent of his field goals on an average of four shots per game.
It is relieving that King isn’t one of those underclassmen who shoots as much as possible in order to impact a game unwarrantedly.
Still, King hasn’t done very much wrong. He’s earned the right to try and do a little more. So, let’s see it. King proved he could be a difference-maker by scoring 14 points on 5-8 shooting in a victory over Oklahoma.
Time to let the wheels off a bit. Let’s see what King can do if he takes eight shots more often.
Reuvers is another sophomore with a high-ceiling who has seen a slight uptick in minutes. The forward has been great when given the opportunity and has even produced despite playing an unideal amount of minutes in some games.
Reuvers tied a program record by accumulating nine total blocks against Stanford earlier in the season. The forward has also scored at least eight in five different games.
With Happ and a more experienced Khalil Iverson at forward, Wisconsin doesn’t always need a significant impact from Reuvers. Regardless, he’s done some nice things in his bench role.
If Reuvers can do so more often, he will be fun to watch. And he certainly will be sitting on the bench less.
There isn’t very much to say about why Aleem Ford has been almost a ghost after a solid freshman campaign. Ford suffered a detrimental knee injury toward the end of the offseason. It’s honestly impressive that he has even played at all given the severity of the injury.
Once Ford is entirely healthy, he should be able to contribute scoring wise. The timing of his health is unknown though.
I was pretty high on Trevor Anderson when he decided to transfer out of UW-Green Bay following his freshman season two years ago.
Before getting hurt 20 games into his first collegiate season, the guard was an effective player for the Phoenix.
The sophomore scored in double figures in his first five collegiate games and averaged 9.8 points per game overall. Anderson has a decent outside shot and is quick when he puts the ball on the floor. He showcased his dribble-drive on a nice move from the top of the key for a layup against Iowa.
The problem is Wisconsin is a guard-heavy team. If this wasn’t the case, I’m sure Anderson would be getting incorporated more.
It doesn’t help that Anderson is now dealing with a right knee injury. Still, if Anderson continues to make the most of his sparse minutes per game when healthy again, there isn’t any reason to believe Gard won’t choose to utilize him more.
Anderson is undoubtedly motivated to help his team. The Wisconsin native grew up aspiring to be a Badger one day. If Anderson can exhibit this passion on the court, he’ll surely be rewarded.