By all accounts, Wisconsin Basketball sophomore Ethan Happ had an excellent 2016-17 season. He followed up a terrific freshman campaign by making both the First Team All-Big Ten and the Big Ten All-Defensive Team as a sophomore. Happ, who averaged 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game was also named a Third-Team All-American by the Associated Press.
However, things are about to get harder for the sophomore superstar. He will no longer have fellow stars Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes to lean on. Also gone are senior starters Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown. To put it bluntly, Happ is going to have put this team on his back. He is the leader now. In order to successfully carry the Badgers to their 20th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, he is going to need to be an even better version of his sophomore self.
First and foremost, Happ needs to become a better free throw shooter. Nobody’s asking for him to turn into Steve Nash from the stripe, but he needs to at least be a serviceable free throw shooter. This past season, he shot 50% from the line. That’s an abysmal number for a college player. There’s just no other way to put it.
Happ’s free throw shooting became such a liability that he spent the end of many close games on the bench to ensure his free throw shooting couldn’t cost them. Next season, Happ needs to be in the game in crunch time. He will also likely see even more free throw attempts due to the ball being in his hands more. He needs to make teams pay for fouling him.
Another area Happ needs to improve is the opposite of free throw shooting: Not fouling. For such an important member of the team, he was in foul trouble way too much. In all of Wisconsin’s three NCAA Tournament games, he spent significant chunks of time on the bench due to foul trouble. It hurt the Badgers then, but next year, it would be devastating. He is going to need to be on the court as much as possible. It’s great that he is an aggressive defender, but as the leader and lone star of the team, he needs to play smarter.
Based off his 58.6% field goal percentage, you would this Happ is an amazing finisher in the low post. But that is only partly true. He is great at making tough, driving layups. His reverse layups are some of the prettiest finishes out there. But despite the high percentage, he does miss too many easy bunnies. Whether it’s short, back-to-the-basket hook shots or contested layups, Happ needs to improve his touch around the rim. Don’t get me wrong- Happ is a good finisher. But he can be even better. If he starts becoming more consistent making shots with his back-to-the-basket, it is going to go from tough to nearly impossible to defend him in the post.
The last area Happ needs to improve on isn’t really a need at all. It is more of a bonus. If Happ is able to add a consistent mid-range jump shot, he is going to be truly unguardable. He is already really good without one. But imagine if defenders had to guard him out on the perimeter! It would open up a whole new arsenal of weapons and ways to score for Happ. It would also be great for Wisconsin’s overall spacing.
Probably not accurate on my part to call it a jump shot. Either way, it's the first hit outside the paint for Happ. pic.twitter.com/WH8C2yxFTZ
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) December 15, 2016
Happ has hit three shots from outside the paint in his Badger career. If he can become a consistent force from that distance, it is game over for opponents. With a jump shot, better free throw shooting, less foul trouble, and more touch in the post, Happ can become one of the best players in College Basketball, which is exactly what this young Badgers team will need him to be.