In a season marred with turmoil and adversity, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team rose through and were able to claim their first Big Ten conference championship since 2015. The team was comprised of only eight scholarship players, including only one scholarship player in the regular rotation with senior eligibility in Brevin Pritzl.
After reviewing the accomplishments of the team in 2019-2020 over the past week or so, lets look ahead into the future at a glimpse of what the 2020-2021 might have in store.
In the final episode (first episode on continuity found here, second on the potential rotation found here) in a series of 2020-2021 Wisconsin basketball outlook pieces, B5Q breaks down each returning contributors game and the area(s) they could improve for next season.
The starting point guard really took a nice leap in his ability to distribute the basketball last year. Trice finished in the top five of the Big Ten in assist to turnover ratio, and was the team leader in the assists department by 70. One of the unquestioned leaders on the team, Trice should continue to be one of the better point guards in the league.
Trice could continue to elevate his game though if he finds a shot around the basket. At this point in his career he is adept at shooting from three, and has a good pull up jumper. The next step for him is to find go to interior shot that he can use when he gets by his defender. Listed a 6-foot, he doesn’t have the size to rise up and dunk or lay it in over big men, instead he must find a consistent shot in that gray area between the pull up jumper and an easy layup. Take Zavier Simpson for example, he has his mini-hook. Trice has utilized the floater at times, perfecting that shot — or a shot similar — would do him wonders.
At this point in Brad Davison’s career, most fans have a pretty good idea of who he is. A gritty player that is generally the pulse of the team, he does a lot of things good on the basketball court.
One area that Davison really improved upon last year was his shooting percentage. As a junior he increased both his field-goal percent, as well as his three-point percentage from the year prior. If he continues to work on his three-point shot, ideally his percentage would continue to rise closer to the 40% mark, something that is totally reasonable considering he shot over 36% this past year.
Outside of increasing his shot accuracy, one area that Davison can continue to work on his quickness. One of the tougher areas to truly improve upon, Davison is tasked with guarding many extremely quick and athletic guards in the conference. While he is known primarily for his ability to take charges, he is generally a fairly good defender given his size and strength. Adding a bit more quickness, would make his defensive acumen all that much more effective though.
Aleem Ford was the most improved player last season. After a tough 2018 season in which he dealt with injuries and shooting struggled, he came back much stronger last year. In particular the areas that he improved the most last year were in his confidence and ability to shoot and defend. Ford also did a much better job rebounding last year, especially in the last ten games of the season.
One facet of his game that could really help the team is his ability to take his man off the bounce. While Ford was more willing to do so in the final eight games, if he is able to dribble drive, and finish near the rim more often, it would completely open up the offense.
The Badgers do not have a lot of players who are skilled at driving to the bucket, but at 6-foot-8, Ford has the size and athleticism to do so if he focuses on it. Already possessing a reliable outside shot, he would be very hard to defend if he could also blow by his defender and finish around the rim.
Micah Potter was a walking bucket last year at times. Potter has a smooth stroke from three, and he is more than capable to finish at the rim off the screen and roll. Potter instantly changed the entire complexion of the team with his tremendous play and energy off the bench last year, but that doesn’t mean he does not have areas to improve.
For Potter, there are two specific areas that he could focus on this spring and summer.
First, and the most important area is defensively. He made nice strides as the season progressed on the defensive end, but he still needs to work on his footwork and positioning while defending. Part of that comes with a better understanding of the way in which Wisconsin plays team defense, which will come, but part of it is also doing a better job of hedging on screens and keeping himself in a position to succeed with his footwork.
The second area for Potter is keeping the ball high, and not using an unnecessary dribble. On multiple occasions last season, Potter would get a feed under the hoop in a prime position to take it right up, but would use a gather dribble that allowed the defender time to recover, or allow a guard to dig down and alter his ability to take the ball up. If he is able to clean up that transition portion of gathering the ball, and going right up with it, he would likely add a point or two per game. Potter has shown the ability to finish inside, but there were several times where an unneeded dribble took that opportunity away last season.
At 6-foot-11, Nate Reuvers provides a nice mismatch problem for most big men on the court when he has the ball in his hands. Able to shoot the three, hit a face up jumper, or back a player down, he has a nice arsenal to turn to offensively.
Last season though, the biggest area of development came on the defensive side. Going up against some of the best forwards and centers in the conference, he held his own, a nice step in his game. One area on the defensive end that he needs to continue to improve upon though is rebounding. Last season he was second on the team with an average of 4.6 rebounds per game, but narrowly out-rebounded much smaller players such as Ford and Davison. While rebounding is generally a team effort, being the tallest player on the squad, and generally defending closer to the hoop, he could really bolster the teams rebounding ability by making crashing the boards an area of focus this off-season.
As a team, Wisconsin finished second to last in the conference in rebounding in front of only Northwestern by a 0.2 edge. That will need to be better next season, and a nice jump by Reuvers would really help.
As a true freshman who was thrown into the fire, Tyler Wahl played admirably. He seemed to really help the team in the early and middle portions of their schedule, by providing a spark of energy and hustle when the team needed it. While Wahl did not light up the scoreboard, or dominate in any specific statistical category, he did a lot of little things right and seemed to always be around the ball.
Entering his sophomore year, Wahl could be the player with the most to gain from this off-season. At 6-foot-7 and 214 pounds, he will need to continue to add strength, but that is a given for most younger players. The area that he needs to continue to hone is his shot. Wahl has shown the ability and a willingness to get into the paint off the dribble, something that he can do well when he is under control. However, his shot from outside the paint needs further development.
This is not a surprise to Wahl or the Wisconsin coaching staff, as he was a heralded recruit who was known as more of a do everything Swiss army knife, and great slasher in high school. If he Wahl can continue to improve his shooting ability, and stretch his shot to be more consistent in the intermediate and from three, he could become a huge piece in the rotation given his positional versatility and high effort level at all times. Last year he shot 43.8% from the field, but only 23.1% from three. If he could get that three-point shooting percentage into the thirties that would be a nice leap.
Trevor Anderson proved to be a capable and reliable third or fourth guard in the rotation last season for Wisconsin. Anderson rarely makes mistakes, and does a nice job of probing the defense off the dribble and passing it to open teammates if the driving lane is not there.
Like Wahl, Anderson was not particularly great at shooting from three, making only 28% of his shot attempts from long-range. I expect that percentage to creep up a bit next season, However, given his quickness off the dribble, I don’t think his three-point accuracy is where he should focus. As he continues to distance himself from the knee injury he sustained in 2018, he will only take up more explosiveness, making him potentially more quick, setting him up nicely for a good mid-range jumper.
Anderson can really get downhill on the dribble, and he gets by his defender often. The issue is that he then is either going all the way to the basket for the layup, or he kicks it to a teammate. While those options are both great, if he could add a pull-up jumper in the mid-range area to his repertoire it only makes him that much more tough to defend, and it would make him a more viable offensive threat for defenses to have to worry about.