NCAA streak ends, but late surge bodes well for Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Once the stings wears away from the first season without an NCAA Tournament in two decades, the Wisconsin Badgers can focus on the future.
The outlook seems bright in Madison in spite of a 15-18 season and the end of a streak of 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The Badgers won five of their last eight games, including a close loss to Final Four contender Michigan State in the third round of the Big Ten Tournament
Too bad Wisconsin got off to such a sluggish start during an injury-plagued year.
“I don’t know across the country if there’s a team that’s come as far as this group has with what they’ve had to overcome and work through and how they’ve grown,” coach Greg Gard said Saturday.
The defense tightened down the stretch as less experienced players finally grew into their roles. It was a tough enough adjustment for the Badgers even before dealing with the losses of starting point guard D’Mitrik Trice and key reserve Kobe King in early December.
Freshman Brad Davison emerged in February to become a sparkplug on both ends in spite of dealing with a left shoulder injury all year. Khalil Iverson became a defensive stopper and showed off his athletic prowess around the hoop .
And Ethan Happ did what almost everyone in the Big Ten expected him to do: dominate in the paint . The junior big man Ethan Happ was the only player in the country to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.
The biggest unknown in the offseason is whether Happ returns to Wisconsin for his senior season. Happ said after the game that that he would enter his name for the NBA draft to get feedback on his future, but that he would likely return if he wasn’t selected in the first round.
A poor jump shooter, Happ might benefit from one final college season to round out his game. Assuming Happ returns, the Badgers could be back on track to contend in the Big Ten.
Other notes and a look ahead to 2018-19 for Wisconsin:
DAVISON DOES IT: A return to full health should do wonders for Davison, who finished second on the team in scoring at 12.1 points behind Happ (17.9 points) while playing through the injury. The freshman with a lethal step-back jumper would also have the chance to play off the ball more with Trice expected to return from his foot injury.
HE’S GOT HOPS: The 6-foot-5 Iverson relishes opportunities to take on the opposing team’s best scorer. The team’s best athlete, Iverson is also adept at taking advantage of open looks along the baseline when teams decide to double Happ. Like Happ, Iverson could benefit from developing an outside shot after missing all 24 of his 3-point attempts on the season.
PRITZL TWIST: Add improved play from sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl to the list of reasons behind Wisconsin’s late-season resurgence. Like Iverson, Pritzl was a reserve the two previous seasons who assumed an expanded role this year, especially when Trice and King went down. A 3-point shooter, Pritzl overcame a midseason shooting slump in part by finding other ways to contribute on the floor.
NEW GUYS: Besides Davison, Wisconsin often started as many as two other freshmen with forwards Nate Reuvers and Aleem Ford getting key minutes. King, who had the potential to be an effective scorer off the dribble, could have secured a starting spot by midseason. The continue development of Reuvers, a 6-10 forward who can shoot the 3, will be important especially if Happ leaves. Reuvers needs more bulk to keep up with big men on defense, though he started showing touch with the ball in the post late in the year.
ROSTER SHUFFLE: Seldom-used forward Aaron Moesch was the only senior on the roster. Trevor Anderson, a 6-2 guard, is eligible to play next year after sitting this season out as a transfer from Green Bay.