When the No. 5 seed Wisconsin Badgers take the court against No. 12 seed Oregon on Friday inside the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., following a year-long hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, the length of their tournament run will hinge on their ability to fire on all cylinders.
Given that Oregon (23-12) has won eight straight games and has only allowed one opponent in that streak to score more than 61 points, Wisconsin will need all of its weapons in place on Friday, to avoid losing in its first NCAA Tournament opener since 2013.
The Wisconsin offense has been led by redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ and sophomores guards D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison in 2018-19, as the only three Badgers to finish the season averaging double-figures.
Wisconsin (23-10) last saw three players average double-figures, when it last made the NCAA Tournament following the 2016-17 season.
We all know about Happ’s prowess. The first-team All-Big Ten senior is one of six players in history with over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 400 assists.
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Trice, who is having quite the comeback season after missing most of the 2017-18 season, is an honorable mention All-Big Ten guard. He averaged 11.7 points per contest this season and got off to a hot start and was among leaders nationally in three-point shooting percentage. Though he has dropped off a bit, the redshirt sophomore still shoots 40 percent from behind the arc.
Davison, the third of three Badgers averaging double-digits this season (10.7), has seen some trouble making shots fall as of late. Davison only made a combined four of 19 from the field—only one of 10 from deep—in the Big Ten Tournament and shot a combined 2-of-18 in back-to-back games at Indiana and at home against Penn State.
While Wisconsin’s leading trio has its driving force most of the season, Wisconsin’s run will be determined by its supporting cast—senior forward Khalil Iverson, redshirt junior guard Brevin Pritzl, sophomore ford Aleem Ford and redshirt freshman guard Kobe King.
Production also needs to come from sophomore forward Nate Reuvers, who has had an up and down season but has shown flashes of becoming the next in a long line of skilled Badger big men.
While the quartet ranked fifth through eighth in scoring for the Badgers this season, they have all provided a spark for Greg Gard’s team in its return to the NCAA Tournament.
Iverson, one of Wisconsin’s three seniors, impressively finished the regular season, his final year in cardinal and white. He has scored in double-digits in six of his last eight games—something he only did twice in his first 24 games. His most impressive outing came when Wisconsin played in the backyard of the Delaware, Ohio native. Iverson set new career marks in rebounds (14) and points (22) in Wisconsin’s 73-67 overtime win at Ohio State.
Wisconsin’s resident sharp-shooter and arguably top reserve, Pritzl turned a corner as Wisconsin entered conference play this season. The De Pere, Wis., native led the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage in conference play, connecting on 53.5 percent of his shots from outside the arc (23 of 43). He is also dangerous from the charity stripe as well, leading the team in free throw percentage (83.3 percent).
Ford eased into the 2018-19 season after suffering a knee injury prior to Wisconsin’s opener, played in 30 games. He has provided a spark off the bench at times this season, hitting some timely shots as seen in his nine-point performance in the home finale against Iowa and recording 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting in UW’s first Big Ten Tournament win against Nebraska last Friday.
In Wisconsin’s Big Ten Tournament opener against Nebraska, Ford scored seven straight points, including a four-point play.
King, who also is returning from injury this season and is one of six Badgers to play in all 33 games (averaging 19 minutes per game). He was only one of two Badgers to score in double figures with 13 points in Wisconsin’s 67-55 loss. The La Crosse, Wis., native got off to a hot start, scoring nine in the first half and played a total of 26 minutes.