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Questions to ponder entering Wisconsin men’s basketball’s 2018–19 season

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We have questions... and answers.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan State vs Wisconsin Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Which Badger are you most excited to watch this season?

Neal Olson: Tough one right off the bat. Plenty of intrigue up and down the roster. I am a most excited to see what sort of transformation Nate Reuvers can make. The reports of added weight seem like more than just ideal offseason talking points. Last season, Reuvers showed he was unafraid to mix it up down low, despite giving up 30-plus pounds at times to rugged Big Ten post players. If he can find a way to stay out of foul trouble, his uncanny shot-blocking skill and confidence shooting the three will help the Badgers big time.

Drew Hamm: I have the same answer as I had (would have had? I don’t remember if I was ever asked this question last year) last year. Kobe King is an exciting player and brings a level of athleticism and shot-making that most (all?) players on the Badgers don’t have. When he is 100 percent healthy, he is going to be a problem for most teams on the Badgers’ schedule. There’s a reason he was being recruited heavily by Iowa State and Marquette, and that reason is he’s really good. King can shoot, he can slash, he can finish at the rim, and he has me very excited to watch him play.

Tyler Hunt: This is an easy answer, but I’m really excited to see Brad Davison play this season. He was nothing short of spectacular last season on essentially one arm. I’m excited to see what this kid can do with two. I truly think his game will improve drastically just by going into the season at 100 percent. Basketball seems difficult enough, and not having to worry about your shoulder popping out probably makes things easier.

Ryan Mellenthin: I have to agree with Tyler. Davison is the player to watch. He had a great freshman campaign despite wearing a brace for most of it and having his shoulder pop out regularly. Now that he has had surgery and is back to 100 percent, I imagine a lot more step-back jumpers and a lot of charges being taken.

Kevin O’Connell: Like Neal, I am very excited to watch Reuvers play this season. With the news of Aleem Ford’s knee injury, Reuvers is suddenly in line for a lot of playing time. I liked what I saw from him in limited minutes last season and he has apparently added some much-needed weight to his frame after a year in the weight room. Reuvers has a smooth shooting stroke with three-point range and he will likely complement Ethan Happ’s dominant post play very nicely. Reuvers has all the tools to be the next great inside-outside post player for the Badgers and I’m excited to see his potential this year with an increased role in the offense.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

When all is said and done, what will Ethan Happ’s legacy at Wisconsin be?

Neal: This will feel like a complisult (do kids still use that phrase anymore, Drew Hamm??) but Happ will go down as the quintessential Badgers hooper. He is the unassuming guy at the pick-up game no one pays much attention to, but pretty quickly everyone realizes is the best player on the floor. His legacy at Wisconsin will be as one of the best to suit up in cardinal and white.

Drew: If you take the average point total of Happ’s three seasons, he scores 514 points per season. If he score that exact amount this season, he’ll end up with 2,055 career points, the third-highest total in program history (behind only Michael Finley and Alando Tucker). That’s pretty freaking good. He should finish tops in school history, barring injury, in field goals made, total rebounds, and offensive rebounds; he should finish top-five in blocks and steals; and he should finish top-10 in assists. He is also currently ranked second in career field-goal percentage. If he makes 269 three pointers this year, he’ll tie Bronson Koenig for the career lead in that category, so don’t count that out, either. He’s been working on his outside stroke!

Happ is undoubtedly one of the best players to put on a Wisconsin jersey based purely on his statistics. The one thing that will determine whether or not we remember him with a “yeah, but” is how the team does this year. Happ is the best player and co-leader (with Davison) for the Badgers and he needs to get them back to the NCAA tournament this year, or else I think his legacy will be a bit tarnished as a great player who accumulated stats on a below-average team.

Tyler: I think Happ will go down as one of the best bigs to ever play at Wisconsin (obviously), but there are so many good ones that have walked through the Kohl Center that it’s hard to tell where he truly lands in the rankings scale. He’s had some incredible performances, but I think this season will determine where he truly ranks as one of the greats. With some other offensive options to go to, I think Happ is due for another big season.

Ryan: Happ will go down as one of the best in program history. He should easily be the all-time leader in rebounds (overall and offensive) and he has a chance at being the all-time leader in blocks. In regard to the all-time scoring lead, he trails Tucker by 676 points. I would like to see him break it, but he would need to average around 20 points to do so and I don’t see that happening with how the team shares the scoring load and slows the game down on offense.

Kevin: It’s pretty clear just by looking at Happ’s career statistics that he is one of the absolute best players to ever come through the program. His production and consistency have been incredible and his numbers are even more impressive when you realize he has been so dominant despite barely scoring outside of the paint. He is such a unique player and someone who has been an absolute joy to watch the past three seasons. Happ had the tough task of leading the program directly after the best four-year stretch in Wisconsin history, and I will always remember him as someone who consistently dominated regardless of the circumstances or talent surrounding him. Happ has a real chance to cement himself on the Mount Rushmore of Wisconsin basketball players if he can lead this team back to the NCAA tournament.

What are your way-too-early predictions? Where will Wisconsin finish, and who is the biggest competition in the Big Ten?

Neal: Of course, any predictions are predicated under the assumption everyone will stay relatively healthy from here on out. Who could have foreseen season-ending injuries to both King and D’Mitrik Trice before Christmas and Davison having to play with one arm at this time last year? With that cleared up, I think this year’s team will be around 22 wins and fighting for another top-four finish in the Big Ten. Michigan State is the deserved preseason projected winner, but after that, nearly everyone else has a chance to be competitive. Well, except for Rutgers.

This year’s team reminds me a bit of the 2011–12 squad. Both returned All-American-caliber players for senior seasons, Jordan Taylor and Happ, and were surrounded by talented though inconsistent teammates. On some nights when everything is clicking, the Badgers will be able to play with anyone in the country. But there will be stretches in the schedule where a few lapses and breakdowns will be as frustrating as they are expected.

Drew: It looks like the B1G is going to be chock-full of pretty good teams and Rutgers. I could see the Badgers finishing anywhere from third to eighth. Michigan State is probably going to win the conference and Purdue and Michigan should be better than Wisconsin. After that?!?! Who the hell knows! Nebraska looks like they could keep being a basketball school and Indiana has a lot of hype around Romeo Langford. Penn State is desperately trying to convince people they are here to stay and Maryland is a real mystery box. I think the Badgers win 11 B1G games and finish fourth in the conference and return to the NCAA tournament, but I’ve never been less sure on any prediction I’ve made!

Tyler: The Big Ten appears to be really deep this year, so it’s hard to tell who really shakes out to be the dominating teams in the conference. I think the two teams in Michigan are set up on paper to battle for the Big Ten title. After that, Purdue, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Nebraska could all battle for third to sixth. I think, if healthy, that this team could win 18 to 20 games and make the NCAA tournament again. With eight or nine teams looking like they could make it to the dance, conference games will be really crucial, but a few big non-conference wins could push you over the hump.

Ryan: If Wisconsin can stay healthy, I think the Badgers could win around 20 games and get back to the NCAA tourney. Big Ten-wise, I think it will be hard for them to surpass Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue, but they could wind up starting yet another streak of top-four finishes in the Big Ten this year. Apart from the top teams in the conference, the Big Ten looks like it could be evenly matched with quite a bit of parity. Given the experience that players gained last year and the return of King and Trice, Wisconsin should be in a good place.

Kevin: For as deep as the Big Ten is this year, the conference is relatively wide open after Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue. I think the Badgers have a great chance to get back to the NCAA tournament and finish at least in the top six of the Big Ten.

That’s not to say the Badgers don’t have plenty to improve on in 2018–19. This team needs to shoot the ball far better than they did a year ago, as well as improve rebounding the ball, where they finished last in the Big Ten last season. Having King and Trice healthy is a huge boost and Happ is a bona fide stud, so there is really no excuse for this team not to be in the thick of the NCAA tournament picture come February.