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Looking ahead to 2019-20 Wisconsin basketball

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Never too early to check out what could be ahead for the Badgers next season.

Dan Sanger

The 2018-19 Wisconsin Badgers were a roller coaster ride. From the highs of beating highly-ranked Michigan to the lows of being upset in the NCAA tournament by the Sweet 16-bound Oregon Ducks, this team kept everyone guessing. Time to turn the page and start looking toward what can be expected next season.

Just a friendly reminder to fans, the last time a Wisconsin team was upset in the first round by a 12th-seeded major conference winner, the Badgers went to the Final Four the following season. I’m just saying…

Backcourt

It was no secret guard play was inconsistent during the final stretch of the season. Perhaps the red hot start set them up for unfairly sustainable pace. D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison started off shooting the ball extremely well. Trice in particular was amongst the top three-point shooters in the country for most of non-conference portion of the season.

So what happened? Certainly the gauntlet of Big Ten conference play was a huge factor. The Big Ten was the most talented conference from top to bottom and is filled with rugged, athletic defenders. Additionally, both Trice and Davison battled injuries during the 2017-18 season which caused them miss a large chunk of off-season conditioning and training. Davison was not cleared to resume full basketball activities until mid-summer. It is possible both players just wore down.

Trice and Davison both enter this offseason healthy and able to participate in all off season activities. Both players have still only played two full seasons of college basketball. Expectations will be high as both players are talented.

They should also be bolstered by the return of Trevor Anderson. Trice and Davison played a ton of minutes, alternating responsibilities as the primary ball handler. A healthy Anderson will be able to shoulder some of that load, allow the minutes played to be more manageable and keep them from wearing down.

Kobe King seemed to require a good chunk of the season to gain confidence after recovering from his injury. His numbers did not leap out of the box score but his usage rate started to go up consistently. In particular against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, the redshirt freshman was aggressive in creating scoring opportunities for himself and teammates.

King may be the most athletically gifted player on the team. The Badgers desperately need him to become confident enough to attack off the dribble and create his own shot. If he is able to make that leap, he will take pressure off of Trice and Davison in end of the shot clock situations.

Of a similar vein, Brevin Pritzl continues to play the role of low usage but highly efficient player. Pritzl is unquestionably one of the best shooters on the team, and frustratingly so at times, does not hunt for his shot as much as his back court comrades.

Basketball efficiency maestro Bart Torvik developed a stat called PORPAGATU! . Essentially it measures a player’s offensive efficiency over a replacement level player on a per game and similar usage rate basis. It is much more difficult to be highly efficient when you have the ball a great deal, than if you only shoot once or twice a game when you are wide open.

Pritzl was second on the team in PORPAGATU! this past season and within the top twenty-five players in the Big Ten Conference. There is no guarantee next year Pritzl will look to shoot more, or if he does, that he will be able to score at the same efficient clip he has thus far in his Badger career.

Opportunities for Prtizl have almost always come in part of the normal flow of the offense. He finds himself as the open man on ball reversal or a kick out from the post. It would be nice to get two or three sets per game where Pritzl can run off a few screens to get open. Similar to how Purdue used Ryan Cline this past season. Whatever the manner, Pritzl needs to be shooting more.

Dan Sanger

Front Court

This is where things go from interesting to unknown. Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson accounted for just under half of the Badgers rebounds this past season. Nathan Reuvers and Aleem Ford return as the only players over 6’4 that played last season.

Reuvers definitely flashed his potential throughout the season. His ability on pick and pop three-point shots off high ball screen will be used more often next season. With him stretching the defenses, more driving lanes will be created for Trice, Davison and King. Additionally, his ability to defend the rim will be needed even more without Happ and Iverson’s defensive prowess next season.

Ford had a challenging season. Recovering from an early season knee injury definitely factored in to an up-and-down year. Regaining the confidence he showed during his redshirt freshman season when he shot 40.9% from deep would be a huge boost for the Badgers. As one of the two returning, contributing “big men,” Ford will also need to contribute more defensively and on the glass. The good news is he was trending up the last few games of the season, showing a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds and attacking the hoop with more purpose.

Regardless of the contributions from Reuvers and Ford, it is pretty clear Wisconsin will need another front court player step up big time. Most ready to contribute is transfer Micah Potter, who played 59 games over two seasons at Ohio State. He has already been praised by the coaching staff for his work on the scout team this past season and at the very least he will add some size to the rotation at 6’9 and 240 pounds.

Time will tell what the Badgers have with the pair of seven footers on the roster. Owen Hamilton and Joe Hedstrom both have what you cannot teach: size. Hamilton has already played one season of college basketball at Northern Illinois before arriving in Madison, while Hedstrom will enter next season as a redshirt freshman.

Both are still young, developing post players and expecting them to play significant minutes consistently is probably a reach at this point. Any impact they have will do wonders. Reuvers’ slight frame combined with his shot blocking attempts leads toward more than occasional foul trouble. Any and every four or five-minute stretch they can put together will go a long way toward defining the ceiling of the team in 2019-20.

New Comers

Perhaps the biggest unknowns that will have the most pressure to compete next season will be redshirt freshman Taylor Currie and true freshman Tyler Wahl.

Remember, Currie was originally slated committed to Michigan in the class of 2019, ultimately chose to reclassify and enroll at Wisconsin starting in the summer of 2018. At 6’8, Currie brings some much needed size. Along with a year spent under the tutelage of the Badger coaching staff and cutting his teeth against Happ and Reuvers, Currie will have more experience than what would be expected had he graduated in 2019 as originally planned. Expectations might need to be tempered still, Currie is still only 18 years old and may need another season or two before he’s ready.

Wahl played high school basketball at Lakeville North where he was teammates with Reuvers. His ability to defend multiple positions on the floor will give him a great chance to potentially see time next season. Offensively, his outside shot is inconsistent but his foot work and quickness around the rim will be reminisce of Nigel Hayes’s Chocolate Tornado.

A Reason For Hope

Seemingly every game the Badgers played this past season involved a scoring drought. Adding insult to injury, one of the most prolific scorer’s in program history, Happ has graduated.

Happ’s ability and contributions as a basketball player are unquestioned, but there is some evidence to suggest the offensive game plan will see a slight uptick in efficiency next season.

Another fun stat the brilliant Torvik has available on his website is percentage of shots made at the rim. This past season the Badger shot 54 percent from shots close to the hoop. For comparison, the numbers from the 2015 national runners up team and the 2013 team are included below.

Wisconsin’s shots made at rim from 2013, 2015, 2019

Year Shots At Rim Attempted Shots at Rim Made Percentage Season Finish
Year Shots At Rim Attempted Shots at Rim Made Percentage Season Finish
2012-13 262 157 60% R64
2014-15 286 194 68% National Runners Up
2018-19 418 227 54% R64

Source: BartTorvik.com

This season drew a few comparisons to the 2013 team—also a squad that struggled offensively for prolonged stretches and was upset by a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even that team shot better at the high percentage opportunities, though.

Also how about that 2015 team, they were pretty dang good, huh?

Certainly a big reason for the lower percentage was Happ attempting really difficult shots in the post. Thankfully throughout his career he made more than he missed, but it could be just a matter of some poor luck with shots rolling out more often than normal. Historically, most teams shoot around 60% around the rim. It stands to reason the Badgers can expect a slight statistical bounce back next season.

None of this regression talk will mean a whole lot unless major strides are made by several players. Happ and Iverson were both very good basketball players, but struggled or avoided entirely any shots from the three-point line. All of the returning players are more comfortable shooting from deep, but being comfortable taking shots and making shots are two different things.

The Badgers’ success next season will start and end with the team’s ability to space the floor and find consistency on offense. The potential is certainly there.