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Wisconsin men’s basketball is bumping up against its learning curve

The youth movement will have to lead to success in the future.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Temple Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

To say that the 2017-18 school year has been a successful one for the University of Wisconsin athletic department would be an understatement.

The football team completed its first undefeated regular season ever and is currently awaiting the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

The volleyball team reached the Sweet 16 once again.

The men’s soccer team reached the Sweet 16.

The women’s soccer team lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The men’s hockey team is ranked No. 13.

The women’s hockey team is the top-ranked in the NCAA.

One team missing from this list is the team that has arguably been the most successful in recent memory, competing in back-to-back Sweet 16s and just three seasons removed from competing in the national championship game as part of back-to-back Final Fours. The team I am referring to is the men’s basketball team.

Greg Gard’s Badger basketball team currently checks in at 4–7 (1–1 Big Ten) and has suffered three losses of 10 or more points.

Expectations for the Wisconsin basketball team entering 2017-18 were tempered, as the Badgers lost 62 percent of their scoring from last season, losing Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown to graduation, as well as Jordan Hill, on a transfer to Seattle University.

Part of the reason the Badgers had been so successful in recent years is that there was little turnover (both on the court and on their roster). Even after losing several starters following their trip to the national championship game, Wisconsin was still able to fall back on players who had made considerable contributions through their first two seasons in Hayes and Koenig, along with Showalter, Brown, and the addition of Ethan Happ.

The five started every game of both the 2015-16 and the 2016-17 seasons, leaving Wisconsin four starting spots to fill entering this year.

However, the team was returning Happ, who became the first player in Big Ten history to lead his team in every statistical category during conference play last season, along with D’Mitrik Trice, who logged valuable time behind Koenig at point guard as a freshman, scoring 5.6 per game.

Apart from Happ and Trice, Wisconsin has a young rotation of players who are now seeing expanded roles and have had to mature quite a bit in their junior, sophomore, and even freshman seasons.

One player that moved into the starting rotation, joining Happ and Trice, is Khalil Iverson, who is averaging 7.4 points per game but has shown signs of dominance at times this season. In his best three games, Iverson scored 17, 14 and 16 points. In those three, he missed a combined five shots.

Gard flipped the script this season and has started two freshman for most of it so far: redshirt freshman Aleem Ford and true freshman Brad Davison.

Wisconsin recently lost Trice indefinitely as he had surgery on his foot and also lost freshman Kobe King for the season due to a knee injury suffered in the final 15 minutes of practice.

With these injuries, Wisconsin will need to dig deep into its bench to fill the guard position behind Davison and sophomore Brevin Pritzl.

Redshirt junior T.J. Schlundt, who played 25 minutes prior to this season, put in 13 minutes in Wisconsin’s loss to Marquette over the weekend, the first game played without Trice and King.

In the loss, Davison played all but two minutes, scoring a team-high 20 points while sporting a brace on his left shoulder—the second-most worried-about shoulder in Wisconsin behind Aaron Rodgers.

Through 11 games this season, Wisconsin is last in the Big Ten in scoring at 66.1 points per game and 12th in field-goal percentage at 44 percent. Another piece of the Badgers’ game that is struggling is their percentage from outside, currently 11th in the conference at 33 percent.

Defense, commonly a staple of Wisconsin’s game, is also lacking this season, as the Badgers are last in the Big Ten while allowing their opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field.

At this point in the season, it looks as though Wisconsin could be missing out on its first NCAA tournament since not reaching the field of 64 back in 1998. However, no matter how this season shakes out, the future is bright for the program. Should the Badgers’ youth movement progress, the program should return to form.

Davison and fellow Minnesota native Nate Reuvers were both four-star, top-100 recruits out of high school and should be a pair that helps the Badgers as they reset for the future. The two are even starting to show dividends as true freshman.

Davison, who is currently averaging 10.9 points per game and shooting 44 percent from both the field and from behind the three-point line, has quickly became one of the on-court leaders for Wisconsin.

Reuvers, who was set to redshirt this season, was called upon after five games by Gard to slide into the rotation. He missed his first 10 shots and then scored double-figures in back-to-back games against Ohio State (10) and Penn State (11).

King, who suffered a season-ending injury, was playing 19 minutes per game and scoring 5.2 points. With his injury, King should be granted a medical hardship waiver so that he can get a re-do on his freshman campaign in 2018-19.

With the start Davison, Reuvers, and King are off to in Madison, as well as the continued success of Happ and Trice, Wisconsin should be back to its winning ways before long.

We may just have to witness the team experiencing a learning curve in 2017-18.