Welcome to the latest B5Q roundtable, where points don’t count and, really, we all win here.
The last time we brought our writers together to talk about Greg Gard’s squad, Wisconsin sat outside the AP Top 25. That has changed with a strong start through 10 games. Despite the overtime loss to No. 21 Marquette on the road, this team is different from last year’s squad.
Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ continues to put up All-American numbers and redshirt sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice is shooting very well from three-point range despite Saturday’s rough 1-for-6 performance against the Golden Eagles.
Our band of writers met up in our Slack channel on Monday night to talk more about what’s went well, what needs to be cleaned up, and predict just how many player of the week honors Happ will receive this season. The chat was edited for clarity and to resolve minor typos.
Wisconsin sits at No. 16 in the AP poll. Through 10 games, which positives stand out the most to you?
Tyler Hunt: I would say the most positive thing we’ve got is depth. Makes such a big difference being able to go to the right guys in the right spots. Feels like I’ve said that before, but it’s so crucial compared to last year.
Also, Ethan Happ. He’s amazing.
Ryan Mellenthin: The experience of their depth has been huge. Getting Kobe King and Trice back this season has made a big difference, especially since Trice is playing out of his mind right now. Having a stable of point guards has been big too, going from only a couple of guys that can run the offense last season to multiple this year. Unfortunately they lost Trevor Anderson, who was one of those guys, but even with his injury, they are still a lot deeper than last season.
Tyler: Much deeper, and in turn the offense moves much smoother than it did last year.
Ryan: Brad Davison’s shoulder not popping out every other game is also helpful ...
Tyler: You would have to think that’s a plus, in my opinion!
Jon Beidelschies: 1) Health - injuries hamstrung this team all last season (pun intended)
(2) Player growth - Happ, Trice, and Davison in particular look more confident
(3) Winning close games - Last year, Wisconsin lost some close ones early. This year, they have won games they were losing last year. Call it maturity?
A solid start, but there are areas to clean up. Which one pops out the most heading into the last non-conference stretch?
Tyler: FREE THROWS
Ryan: The biggest thing is free throws
Tyler: PLEASE MAKE MORE FREE THOSE
Jon: Reduce punches to particular areas. Also free throws.
Tyler: THEY ARE FREE. FREE POINTS.
Ryan: Overall, 67 percent for the year.
Tyler: Yeah, that’s not going to win you games.
Ryan: Happ, who shoots the most, is shooting 41 percent at the free-throw line.
Tyler: Also, the same problem that has plagued Wisconsin for decades is the stretches where they don’t score. 4–5 minutes a pop really hurts if you don’t play perfect defense.
Jake Kocorowski: Yup, chiming in here; more clutch from the charity stripe is huge. Can’t hit 10 of 21 from the line on the road and expect to win against Marquette.
Ryan: Even Davison, who led the Big Ten coming into this past weekend, went 0-for-2 from the line in a big spot against Marquette (0-for-3 altogether).
Jon: Are we about four games away from Hack-a-Happ?
Tyler: I think we are very close to that becoming a reality, and I can’t blame teams for doing it.
Ryan: I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t started yet ...
Tyler: I think we’ll really see it in Big Ten play. Teams that are familiar with him will know they can exploit it.
Jon: Important question: what is worse right now, Wisconsin free-throw shooting or Monday Night Raw?
Jake: I’ll go with Monday Night Raw, as it’s Happ that’s bringing down the entire team’s free-throw percentage
Jake: Here’s another one, and it kind of goes back to the positive of having depth, but there needs to be a more consistent third or fourth scoring option. It’s Happ and Trice, and then either Aleem Ford, Brevin Pritzl, Davison, or Nate Reuvers stepping up. Kobe King and Khalil Iverson have at stretches too early on, but to find a consistent third scorer if Trice or Happ has a bad day, which the former did at Marquette, someone else needs to step up.
Tyler: Agreed. I think Ford and King could grow into that, but someone has to. Iverson has the experience to do it. Davison appeared he would be the one coming into the year but it just hasn't happened yet.
Jake: Reuvers is on the brink of it right now.
Tyler: If Reuvers consistently knocks down threes ... oh BOY
Ryan: I think Ford is close to getting back into the swing of things offensively. Would like to see him drive a bit more, but he could be shying away because of the knee.
Tyler: ^^^ 100% agree. Once he’s really comfortable with the knee I hope to see the explosiveness we’ve seen before.
Ryan: He and King should be key going into Big Ten play. Both can create for themselves.
How many Big Ten Player of the Week honors will Happ receive before the end of the regular season? He already has four.
Jon: Over/under is 9.5. I will take the over.
Tyler: Life’s too short to bet the under. Is there a Big Ten record for that? He’s gotta be on a pretty good pace.
Ryan: You have to think Carsen Edwards from Purdue will start taking some for himself. The kid is averaging 25.5 points per game. I’ll go with the over as well.
Tyler: Eventually Michigan or Michigan State will get some guys on there. Happ has just been too dominating thus far.
Jake: I think it has to be 10 to 11 POW honors. He already has the four and the next two weeks are against teams they should handle at home.
Ryan: If he ups his assist average, it would be hard for him to not continue to win them.
Tyler: That would be six before January ... my, what a pace.