Not many teams in the Big Ten have such a mix of questions and intrigue than the Wisconsin Badgers this offseason.
On one hand, the Badgers struggled through a 15-18 campaign as youth and injuries played a major role in the downturn. However, the Badgers showed signs of life towards the end of the season with a 4-2 finish that included a victory over then third ranked Purdue and two close losses to Big Ten champion Michigan State. With that momentum in mind, Wisconsin returns nearly everyone from last season and should be healthier. With the experience gained by young players such as Brad Davison, expectations could be in line for a return to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s see what’s been going on with the Badgers so far this offseason.
ESPN’s BPI Loves The Badgers
As discussed earlier this week by our fearless leader, Thomas Beindt, ESPN released an early look at their predictive rating system for the top 50 teams heading into the 2018-19 season. The results were, uh, surprising. ESPN had Wisconsin as the 8th best team in the country and best returning squad in the Big Ten. BPI emphasizes returning minutes in their analysis, so that explains the high ranking, but maybe they need to tweak the algorithm a little bit? Wisconsin can compete for a top-5 spot in the Big Ten this season and an NCAA Tournament bid, but a top-10 team overall is a scorching hot take. You can check out the full BPI top-50 rankings here.
For another predictive rating system currently out, I would also suggest Bart Torvik’s system, which has 2018-19 predictive analysis up. The heart of this system is offensive and defensive points per possession. Wisconsin projects at no. 22 in his rankings, which seems both bullish and more reasonable.
How’s Brad Davison’s Shoulder?
One of last season’s ongoing storylines was the health of freshman Brad Davison’s shoulder. The 6-foot, 3-inch guard dislocated his shoulder in a November game against Baylor and dealt with its effects throughout the rest of the season. Davison and the Wisconsin staff hoped that it would heal on its own, but that never materialized. So Davison basically played with one good shoulder and still averaged 12.2 points per game and 35 percent shooting from three-point range.
Almost immediately after the season concluded in early March, Davison had surgery to repair the shoulder. So how is Davison doing this offseason? According to an article from Land of 10’s (now The Athletic’s) Jesse Temple, Davison is “two months ahead of schedule” on his recovery and plans to be ready to go in early September. That’s great news for Wisconsin’s postseason hopes in 2018-19. It was remarkable how good Davison was last season on one shoulder. Look for Davison to really take off this season.
D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King - Cleared For Action
The positive news on the injury front continued with tweets from Jon Rothstein a few days ago that D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King are basketball-ready for the upcoming season.
Wisconsin's Kobe King (knee) has been fully cleared for all basketball related activities, per Greg Gard.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 31, 2018
Wisconsin's D'Mitrik Trice (foot) has been fully cleared for all basketball related activities, per Greg Gard.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 31, 2018
Both players appeared in only the first 10 games last season. Trice could develop into a nice third scoring option for the Badgers this season if things fall the right way. King will look to solidify Wisconsin’s depth, get more acclimated to the college game, and contribute scoring where he can in Greg Gard’s system.
The Eternal Question: Is Ethan Happ Working On His Three-Point Shot?
A common obsession throughout Ethan Happ’s stay in Madison has been Happ’s inability to shoot three-pointers. The senior forward notoriously did not attempt a three-pointer (or even a shot outside 15 feet) in his first two seasons at Wisconsin but destroyed people in the low-post. A common offseason storyline last season was that Happ was refining his shot and going to rain three-pointers on the Big Ten in 2017-18. There was even video evidence from college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman. The storyline turned out to be overblown as Happ went 1-11 from three-point range last season, and still stuck to his bread and butter repertoire of dazzling back-to-the-basket moves.
What about this offseason? The three-point narrative seems to have quieted down, but there’s still plenty of time. Happ will definitely need to develop an outside shot if he wants a chance in the NBA, but I point out this storyline partly in jest because it is classic offseason college basketball space filling. An obsession with what he can’t do is unfair to all the things Happ excels at. He’s really good as is, and expect him to compete for the Big Ten Player of the Year honor this season.
Battle 4 Atlantis Bracket Revealed
Wisconsin will compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis this season from November 21-23. The event revealed its bracket in late July and Wisconsin will potentially play some familiar foes in their recent history.
The official #Battle4Atlantis bracket.. who ya got? pic.twitter.com/3oCLdMqY84— Fire Hoops (@fire_hoops) July 25, 2018
Wisconsin starts off with Stanford, which will be a nice opportunity for a Power 5 victory. A next round match-up with Florida or Oklahoma comes after that. Wisconsin defeated Oklahoma in the non-conference portion of their schedule in 2016, and, well, Wisconsin fans know about their recent history with Florida. This year’s Gators team is a likely top 25 squad and could be the toughest match-up for the Badgers in this tournament.
Wisconsin also has some nice history in his event. The 2014-15 Badgers won the Battle 4 Atlantis, which was a springboard to probably the best basketball season in Wisconsin history.
Can Nate Reuvers Be a Breakout Player This Season?
One of the weaknesses Wisconsin will need to account for this season is big man minutes outside of Happ. One of the young players that could fill that void is sophomore Nate Reuvers. The 6-foot, 10-inch big averaged 5.3 points per game last season in 16 minutes of play, but there’s been chatter around the Wisconsin program that Reuvers is having a nice summer. Jon Rothstein also included Reuvers on his Big Ten breakout players list on July 23rd.
10 Big Ten Breakout Players:— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 23, 2018
Justin Smith, Indiana
Thomas Allen, Nebraska
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State
Jon Teske, Michigan
Nojel Eastern, Purdue
Anthony Gaines, Northwestern
Nate Reuvers, Wisconsin
Da’Monte Williams, Illinois
Kyle Young, Ohio State
Eric Curry, Minnesota
Much of this is guesswork at this point, but if Wisconsin can get great minutes out of Reuvers, it makes Happ’s life easier, and the Badgers better.
The storylines will continue to build for a Badgers team looking to return to the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season. Follow BTPowerhouse as we look at what the Badgers will need to do this season to get back to that point.