With another NCAA championship game in the books and another Big Ten team failing to end the drought that now stands at 18 seasons, it is officially time for all of college basketball to really start looking ahead to next season.
For the University of Wisconsin, that process has been underway for a month now. So, after resting the body and getting Spring Break out of the way, it is now time to look at what needs to be done this offseason.
Given Wisconsin’s fall from grace, there are a lot of things to figure out this offseason.
What are the biggest storylines to watch as the offseason unfolds? Let’s take a look at our top three.
Will Happ Stay or Go?
It seems almost certain that star center Ethan Happ will stay with the Wisconsin Badgers for his final season. We’ve documented our reasons why earlier this week. But, there’s no doubt that this team looks and plays very differently with or with him in the lineup.
Even if the Badgers and their fanbase firmly believe Happ is coming back, what version of Happ will the Badgers see? Will it be the same old reliable Happ down low, or will he be working hard on the points that NBA scouts give him in the draft process?
If it is the latter, Wisconsin could have itself a really interesting lineup next season. One that could be much more versatile and difficult to defend. Imagine defending against a 6-11 guy who can dribble, drive, has all the moves around the hoop and suddenly has developed a serviceable shot from mid-range…it certainly would change how UW looks.
But, should Happ get really good news and be a potential first-round pick, Wisconsin also looks very different next season…which brings us to our second offseason storyline…
Nate Reuvers’ Development
Speaking of issues up front, the Wisconsin Badgers clearly needed Nate Reuvers’ game in a big way last season. His ability to be a forward that could square up and shoot from outside of five feet was a big help to UW’s offense. It was a shame though, because Reuvers really could’ve used an entire year to just focus on his body and some of the finer points of the game.
That much showed down the stretch as his numbers began to dip and his presence down low was not a good thing defensively more often than not. His body just couldn’t handle it anymore.
But, he did end up averaging 5.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game in his first season in a Badgers uniform. Those were not bad numbers behind Happ to say the least.
As we turn to next season, there are a lot of questions about where Reuvers’ game will go.
Can he turn the in-game experience he got in to increased productivity? Will that only come now in the offseason as he focuses on adding weight and becoming a better defensive player for the Badgers?
The ability of Reuvers to be a starter opposite of Happ next season is going to largely depend on what he does with his body this offseason. If he can add the weight needed, look for the Badgers to find a way to get him starting minutes. If not, UW may be wiser to go with a three-guard look and allow Reuvers to come off the bench.
Wisconsin really needs Reuvers to develop this offseason, because it is clear they can’t count on soon-to-be seniors like Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas. Add in the loss of Andy Van Vliet to transfer and things get really interesting. Sure, UW adds 6-10 center Joe Hedstrom and Top 247 forward Taylor Currie to the mix, but Hedstrom is likely to gray-shirt and Currie was supposed to be a 2019 recruit before re-classifying to 2018. That means both could be in line to not play next season and thus still leaving the Badgers short-handed up front.
Gard’s Dilemma at Guard
Believe it or not, Wisconsin’s most pressing offseason situation may be at guard…and it may not be a bad thing at all. After UW had to throw freshman Brad Davison into his unnatural position of point guard in 2017-18, that shouldn’t be the case in 2018-19 thanks to a rebuilt point guard situation.
D’Mitrick Trice is likely to get a nearly lost season back with a medical hardship waiver, but either way his injured foot should be 100 percent ready to go this offseason. He’ll have competition for the starting job though, as former recruit and Green Bay transfer Trevor Anderson will become available and 2018 recruit Tai Strickland will join the group in the summer.
That should move Davison to his more natural position of shooting guard, but he’ll be on the sideline for part of the offseason after surgery to repair a bad shoulder. It also means that Kobe King’s roll is less a sure thing too.
Wisconsin has a lot of different combinations it can throw on the court this upcoming season. Sorting out the rotation and with combinations work best together will likely be Gard’s biggest issue this offseason.
Coming on the heels of a brutal 2017-18 at guard, a loaded group is a welcomed sight. So, just who will shine and how will the Badgers look heading in to the undetermined season opener in November? Anyone that pretends to know exactly how this group of guards will shake out has information even head coach Greg Gard doesn’t have.
Ultimately though, it may be Gard’s decision at guard that makes his fourth season at the helm of the program a success or keeps the Badgers in mediocrity. If it’s the latter, the pressure certainly will be on for Gard’s job. He simply has to get this guard situation right if UW is going to get back to winning a lot of basketball games.