The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team ended the 2018-19 campaign by getting their doors blown off by a scorching hot Oregon Ducks team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Now that Virginia is the first ever national champion to have lost to a No. 16 seed in the first round the year prior, I think enough time has passed to look back on the Badgers season.
First, lets get the facts. Wisconsin finished the year 23-11 overall and 14-6 in the Big Ten, widely considered to be the most difficult conference in the country. Their final KenPom ranking was No. 16 and they started a new streak of finishing in the top four of the conference.
Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ was named a consensus second-team All-American and, fellow senior forwards, Charles Thomas and Khalil Iverson exhausted their eligibility. Point guard Tai Strickland announced his intentions to transfer and everyone has THOUGHTS about it [ed. note: seriously, check out the comments section from that article.]. Everyone thinks sophomore guard Brad Davison flops too much. Nobody can make a free throw.
That just about covers it, huh?
Now, let’s dive in a little bit deeper and examine both the three best players from last season and the five best games. Why those numbers? Well, why the hell not, Nosy Nelly? Jeez, can’t a guy just write?
Three Best Players
Ethan Happ, redshirt senior, center/forward
Without question, Happ had one of the finest careers of anyone to ever put on a Wisconsin uniform (in any sport tbqh, but let’s just start with basketball). Just look at the final paragraph from the UWBadgers.com story on him being named to the All-America team:
The Milan, Illinois, native finished his career 18th in Big Ten history with 2,118 points and third with 1,209 boards. Happ owns the Wisconsin school record for rebounds and blocks and ranks among UW’s all-time top three in each of the five major statistically categories: points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.
Honestly, that whole post is chock full of wonderful nuggets comparing Happ to players like Ben Simmons (swoons), Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird. That’s some pretty heady company.
The senior center averaged 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, making him the only player in the country to average more than 16/10/4 and the second person to do that in the past two decades (joining Simmons). He also matched the school record for double-doubles in a season (21) and—while he had a number of more impressive stats, I think this one is the most bonkers since he’s nearly seven feet tall—ranked eighth in the conference in assist to turnover ratio!
Oh yeah, Happ is also the first Wisconsin player to be named to two All-America teams. Wisconsin has been playing basketball, mostly poorly, since their 0-3 1898-99 debut season. To be fair to that team, the Badgers didn’t play their first home game until 1903.
The career numbers for Happ are just as impressive. He ended his time in Madison with 2,130 points, 1,217 rebounds and 423 dimes. How many players do you think have ever totaled 2,000 points, 1,000 boards and 400 assists? Before Happ did it, you could count them on one hand. Robertson, Bird, Danny Ferry, Stacey Augmon and John Konchar have a new member of their very exclusive club.
I know this reads more like a career retrospective than a season one, but sometimes I think we all need to be reminded about how good Happ was. Sure, a trained seal could probably make more free throws than him, but a seal doesn’t have nearly the court-vision or footwork that Happ has. Eat it, seal! Happ was great for his career and for last season. Badger fans will miss him, even you, angry Tweeters.
D’Mitrik Trice, redshirt sophomore, guard
I think that the sour ending to the season has, well, soured some people on Trice’s abilities. Do you remember the beginning of the season when Trice was shooting 60.6 percent from three???? He went seven-of-eight from deep against Oklahoma! That is bonkers!!!
Look, I know he isn’t the most athletic point guard out there and that he sometimes struggles get into the paint and create shots for others. I know this and I hope he works on it, but I do not think we should throw out all of the positives from Trice’s season because he shot 3-of-16 from distance in their last two losses.
Trice played the most minutes of anyone on the team and had a great turnover rate and shot 39% from three for the season. If Trice doesn’t improve next season, then I think we can have a more serious conversation about him and the player development that happens under Greg Gard. Until then, let us remember that he basically missed all of last season with an injury and still has two more years to make strides.
Also, this should be noted...
Did you know that D'Mitrik Trice leads the #Badgers this season in charges drawn with 18? I hope certain talking heads don't learn of that development. They might question whether Trice respects himself as a real player.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) March 7, 2019
Nate Reuvers, sophomore, forward
For the Badgers last season, Reuvers was a revelation on defense and as a long distance bomber in the mold of Frank Kaminsky, Jon Leuer or Brian Butch.
Nate Reuvers not about that midrange life pic.twitter.com/e6BzNxaJHU— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) February 13, 2019
Just look at the complete disregard for a long two! Man, that really gets me going! Reuvers shot 38.1% from deep and had the 50th best block rate (8.4) in the nation and should only get better this offseason. I mean, he recorded nine (!) blocks against Stanford and seven at The Barn so hopefully next year he gets a double-double with blocks.
Reuvers has a number of things he can work on this offseason, however. He found himself in foul trouble too often—which really will not be an option now that Happ is gone—and he could certainly improve his defensive rebounding, too. He should also try to get to the line a little more often as he attempted only 41 free throws (making 63.4 percent) last season. He may just do naturally since Happ will not be down low all the time anymore.
Honorable mention best players: Brevin Pritzl and Khalil Iverson
Pritzl shot the three really well (41% from deep) and Iverson dominated the last two weeks of the year. I like both of them.
Five Best Games
Oklahoma, (W) 78-58, neutral site
Trice scored 25 points on seven-of-eight three point shooting against a Sooners team that would win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Happ had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Davison played 32 minutes and somehow did not score once.
Iowa, (W) 72-66, road
Badgers turned on the jets at the end of the game to win their first conference game in a tough environment. This was the game that led me to believe they could hang in the Big Ten this year. Happ recorded 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Trice contributed 20 points to lead all scorers.
Michigan, (W) 64-54, home
Best win of the year, especially since it came on the heels of two heartbreaking losses to Purdue and Maryland, respectively. Happ was a monster, scoring 26 points, nabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Reuvers registered nine points and two blocks.
Minnesota, (W) 56-51, road
Revenge for a loss at the Kohl Center earlier in the year and the sixth win in a row after those two aforementioned losses above. Happ recorded 15 points, 13 rebounds and four assists—along with one excellent farewell to the student section.
Ethan Happ exits The Barn pic.twitter.com/4Agmbl2Hdz— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) February 7, 2019
Reuvers showcased his presence with nine points, eight boards and seven blocks.
Indiana, (L) 75-73 (2OT), road
I know this was a loss, and an extremely frustrating one at that, but it was still a good game! Trice hitting free throws to send it to overtime and then hitting a three to send it to double OT? That’s fun! Happ put up 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists while Iverson contributed 15 points and three offensive boards.
We will be looking ahead to next season in the coming weeks, and there will be a lot to talk about since the Badgers will look very different. All of the way too early polls that I have seen don’t include Wisconsin, and rightfully so, but do include a number of Big Ten teams.
Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Ohio State, Maryland, Iowa and Minnesota are all listed in at least one poll, along with Marquette and potential opponent Auburn.
It should be another tough year and I, for one, cannot wait.