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Wisconsin Basketball Position Preview: Bigs

This is a preview of Wisconsin Basketball’s bigs, which consists of power forwards and centers. This is the third article of a three-part series. The first two are linked below the article.

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Key Losses

Nigel Hayes

Hayes was talked about in-depth in the wing section because he primarily started at small forward last season. But his more natural position was definitely power forward. He was a valuable second option in the post, and he had a good connection with Ethan Happ in high-low sets. The Badgers will miss his defense, rebounding, and scoring down low.

Vitto Brown

Vitto, or 3tto Brown was a sharpshooting stretch four. He hit 32% of his three-point tries as a senior, a sharp regression from 40% his junior season. But opponents always had to respect Brown’s shot, which created more room for Hayes and Ethan Happ to operate. Brown also provided serviceable defense and rebounding, although he rarely provided anything besides turnovers when he tried to create his own shot.

Key Returners

Ethan Happ

You already know about Happ. As a Second Team All-American, Happ became a household name during his junior season. His footwork and ability to finish around the rim made him one of the best post players in the country. He is also one of the best defenders in the conference. With Hayes and Bronson Koenig gone, he will have more pressure on him not only to carry the team, but also to provide leadership. He will likely see a lot of double-teams until the players around him show they can’t be left open. Happ is Wisconsin’s biggest key to success this season. If they want to keep their NCAA tournament streak alive, he is going to need to be an excellent scorer, leader, and passer out of double teams. He has the potential to be all of that, and more.

Andy Van Vliet

As a sophomore last season, Van Vliet played 48 total minutes in just 14 games. But he has reportedly taken a huge jump in both his play and mentality. Now, the 7-footer will likely start alongside Happ in the frontcourt. On offense, he appears to be the perfect complement to Happ. His specialty is his three-point shooting, which should create more space for Happ to operate. As the tallest player on the team, he should also be an asset on the boards. While Van Vliet isn’t a great post scorer yet, that isn’t what the team needs him to be. But they do need him to step up defensively. While he has improved himself physically since he arrived in Madison, he is still skinny and weak for a Big Ten big man. In order to stay on the court, he needs to prove he can defend at a high level.

Charles Thomas

Thomas is a very intriguing breakout possibility for the Badgers. At 6’8 and 255 pounds, Thomas is built like a tank. His strength makes him a good interior defender and rebounder. While he has played some meaningful minutes for the Badgers, he has never been an effective scorer. He shot only 39% from the field last season, which isn’t very good for a big man. However, early returns seem to suggest that his post game has improved. He also drilled a three-pointer in Wisconsin’s Red-White scrimmage. If he can carry that into the regular season, he will likely be a reliable backup for both Happ and Van Vliet.

Khalil Iverson

Iverson will likely start at small forward, which was why he was in the wing section. But Wisconsin has a lot of talented guards. D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Brevin Pritzl, and Kobe King are four of Wisconsin’s best players. In order to get them on the floor as much possible, Greg Gard may employ some four-guard lineups. In such scenarios, Iverson could step in and play the four. While he is slightly undersized, he athleticism more than makes up for. In fact, he may actually be a better fit insider than on the perimeter, especially on offense.

Alex Illikainen

Illikainen was projected to be yet another great Wisconsin shooting big man coming out of high school, but two years later, he hasn’t came to close living up to expectations. He played limited minutes over the last few seasons, and despite having some decent stretches of games, he never looked comfortable on the court. On offense, he is way too hesitant. He constantly passes up open looks that he has proven in the past he can hit. He is nothing more than an average defender and rebounder. At this point in his career, he needs to take a big jump. Otherwise, he will likely be a fringe rotation player and situational backup like he was last season.

Aaron Moesch

Moesch, the only senior on the roster, was awarded a scholarship in outstanding fashion prior to the Australian trip. It remains to be seen whether he’ll earn any real playing time. Last season, he averaged just two minutes per game. But on a young team, Gard may choose to bring in the veteran. At the start of his sophomore season, Gard used Moesch in games to help a young team better understand the swing offense. Something similar wouldn’t be surprising this season.

Key Newcomers

Nathan Reuvers

True freshman Nate Reuvers was the prize of Wisconsin’s heralded three-man recruiting class. At 6’10 with the ability to shoot the ball, he was a 247 Consensus top-75 prospect. However, big men usually take longer to develop than guards. Reuvers still needs to put on quite a bit of weight before he is ready to play at this level. For that reason, there is a good chance he uses a redshirt this season. But if he doesn’t, he likely won’t earn meaningful minutes until the second half of the season.

Projected Rotation

C: Happ 30 min, Thomas 10 min

PF: Van Vliet 17 min, Illikainen 7 min, Thomas 6 min, Iverson 8 min, Moesch 2

Overall Expectations

Ethan Happ is a star, and will continue to be a star. That is the only thing we know for certain about this group. If Van Vliet is good enough on defense to stay on the court and space the floor, and Thomas and Illikainen can take a big step, this frontcourt has an exceptionally high ceiling. But nobody knows what will happen. Van Vliet, Thomas, Illikainen, and Moesch averaged a combined five points per game last season. They all have shown promise at various points, but the lack of experience is evident. There are just so many question marks. 

Other Previews

Guards

Wings

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Can Badgers get OSU transfer Micah Potter eligible for start of next season?

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When looking forward to the 2019-20 season for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program, one sees a massive void in experience up front. 

Ethan Happ, Charles Thomas and Khalil Iverson will all graduate after this year. That leaves only one man who plays in the regular rotation up front in sophomore big man Nate Reuvers. 

Wisconsin got some big help as former Ohio State forward Micah Potter announced his commitment to the Badgers in his transfer away from the Buckeyes.

The 6-9 forward was a high 3-star recruit with a who’s who of offers coming in to the 2016 class. He had offers from the likes of Ohio State, Purdue, Clemson, Iowa, West Virginia, North Carolina State before ultimately picking OSU. 

But, there may be a bit of a snag in the transfer process because Potter chose to transfer just before the season started and technically wouldn’t be available until the second semester next season. 

Wisconsin needs some experience up front and they need Potter to be eligible right away to maximize the potential of this front court. UW will likely have to apply for a waiver with the NCAA since technically Potter didn’t play a single game this season. 

What is the likelihood of the Badgers getting that waiver granted? That’s the big question that no one really knows the answer to. In many cases the NCAA has been willing to grant waivers in favor of the player, but this is a more unique case that may require some real documentation as to why this transfer happened so late in the first semester. 

As for Potter’s importance to next season? Well, UW will have to see if the redshirt years of both Joe Hedstrom and Taylor Currie paid off and they are ready for major contributions. 

Going in to the 2018-19 season neither were physically there, otherwise we may have seen one or both of them getting some minutes to get ready for the next season. 

However, Potter is a known commodity and he has produced well coming off the bench for the Buckeyes early on in his career. 

Potter played in 29 games last season, including four starts. He averaged 4.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per game and was becoming a key player off the bench. 

At Wisconsin, Potter is likely to create real competition for a starting spot in the Badgers lineup next season and that is important to say the least. 

With the Badgers getting very young up front next year, Potter being available from the first tip of the season and beyond is vital. 

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Marquette outlasts Badgers 73-69 in OT

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Everyone expected a big time battle between the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette Golden Eagles and the two teams didn’t disappoint.

It even took an extra five minutes to decide the winner, but ultimately the hosts prevailed in a 73-69 overtime thriller at the Fiserv Forum. 

With a game this close small things mattered and that was to Marquette’s advantage. The Golden Eagles were able to catch Wisconsin, who led for large stretches of the game, thanks to its free throw shooting. 

Marquette cooled off a bit in overtime, but the Golden Eagles hit 22-34 from the free throw line compared to UW’s 10-21 performance at the line. 

It was a good thing for Marquette, because they struggled to shoot from the field overall. Wisconsin’s defense clamped down most of the night and Marquette shot just 35 percent (23-65) from the field. 

Wisconsin shot 50 percent (27-54) from the field in the loss and even Ethan Happ setting a new career high with 34 points wasn’t enough for Wisconsin to overcome its bad free throw shooting. 

Marquette’s star player, Markus Howard, was held to just 7-29 shooting from the field. However he offset that with an incredible 11-13 night from the free throw line in putting up 27 points to lead all Golden Eagles in scoring. 

The hosts got off to the hotter start, thanks to early turnovers from the Badgers. However, hot was a relative term for the half because Marquette was never able to get a bigger lead than four points in the half thanks to its lack of efficiency from the field. 

Six straight points by sophomore forward Nate Reuvers gave the Badgers their first lead immediately following Marquette going up by four at 17-13 with 10:36 to play in the half. 

Reuvers run helped spark a larger 14-5 run that gave UW its largest lead of the half at five points (27-22) with 4:09 to play. 

Howard would stop the run and score eight of Marquette’s final 10 points of the half. The final of those came on a layup with a second left to play and put Marquette down by just one point at 32-31. 

The second half was all about Happ and fouls. On the one hand, Marquette couldn’t stop Happ and on the other hand, Wisconsin couldn’t stay out of foul trouble or hit free throws to keep pace with Marquette. 

Happ poured in 10 of Wisconsin’s first 14 points to give the Badgers a pair of six-point leads. 

Marquette continued to struggle shooting the ball, but they hit 7 of 7 free throws in the first eight minutes to mitigate anything the Badgers were able to do on the other end of the court. 

It led to the Golden Eagles cutting UW’s lead from 47-41 with 14:16 to play all the way down to 47-45 with 12:05 to play in the game. 

Marquette would eventually re-take the lead for the first time since just over 6:30 was left in the first half on a Theo John lay-in to go up 52-51 with 5:56 to play in the game. 

It was all part of an 11-4 run by the Golden Eagles. 

The two bitter rivals were tied 10 times in the game and saw 13 lead changes, most of it coming over the final five minutes of play. 

But, all the effort led to just a 61-61 tie to end regulation. 

Marquette got the job done in overtime on the defensive end, as the Badgers could muster only two made field goals and couldn’t stay out of foul trouble either. 

Ironically, UW was really only able to stay close thanks to finally making some free throws. The Badgers went 4 of 7 from the free throw line in overtime, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome some big moments by the hosts. 

The game completely turned as UW sophomore guard Brad Davison was called for a Flagrant 1 foul as he appeared to low blow Sam Hauser who was attempting to screen for his teammates with the score just 65-63 in overtime. 

However, Marquette made both free throws to make it 67-63 and a two possession game thanks to Davison’s ill-timed decision. The Golden Eagles weren’t able to fully capitalize though, as the ensuing return of possession resulted in a missed three-pointer. 

But, the flip of the game from a two to four-point lead for Marquette made all the difference. Wisconsin found itself having to scramble and make up for the needed extra possession the rest of the way and never found a way to do it. 

Wisconsin has now lost three of the last four in this series and are just 1-2 in this game under head coach Greg Gard. 

Savannah State is up next for the Badgers on Dec. 13 at the Kohl Center. Tip is scheduled for 7pm CT and can be seen on BTN. 

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Badgers Basketball Preview: Marquette edition

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It’s been a busy and competitive past few weeks for the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers. Things won’t get any less competitive on Saturday afternoon as I-94 rival Marquette awaits.

 This series has been crazy over the last decade, with six of the last eight games won by the team on the road. It’s the first matchup in Marquette’s new home at the Fiserv Forum, so will the trend continue on from the Bradley Center or will something new start? 

Wisconsin has won four games away from home already this season, one of just seven teams to do such on the year. That total also matches the total from all of last season. 

But, Marquette has shown an ability to protect its house and play at a pace that could make the Badgers uncomfortable. Who wins on Saturday? 

We’ll all find out starting at 4pm CT on FOX, but let’s take a look at the matchup too. 

No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 8-1 (2-0 B1G)
Head Coach: Greg Gard, 4th year at Wisconsin & overall (65-37 UW and overall)
Notable: Ethan Happ is averaging 17.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists on the season. He’s the only player in the country to average over 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists and if he can hang on to those averages he’d be the only player to do it over the past 20 years. 

Probable Starters:

G – D’Mitrik Trice – 17.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
G – Brad Davison – 8.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.4 apg
F – Khalil Iverson – 5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg
F – Nate Reuvers – 6.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.9 apg
C – Ethan Happ – 17.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 5.0 apg

Marquette Golden Eagles (They haven’t changed their nickname this year, right?)

Record: 7-2 (0-0 Big East)
Head Coach: Steve Wojciechowski, 5th season overall (80-61)
Notable: Fiserv Forum has been kind to the Eagles so far this year, as the opposition are averaging just 58.5 points per game in the new digs, compared to 66.4 points per game over all games this year. Opponents have combined to shoot just 34.0 percent from the floor in the new arena and just 29.0 percent from behind the 3-point line as well. 

Probable Starters:

G – Markus Howard, Jr. – 22.4 pgg, 4.6 rpg, 4.8 apg 
F – Sam Hauser, Jr. – 14.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 apg
F – Joey Hauser, Fr. – 10.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
F – Sacar Anim, Jr. – 7.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
C – Theo John, So. – 6.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.2 apg 

Matchup to Watch: D’Mitrik Trice vs. Marquette defense

Wisconsin fans keep thinking eventually Trice is going to have a horrible day from beyond the arc and then what happens to the team? Well, so far this year Trice has been unreal. 

The sophomore point guard is leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 60.0% (30-for-50) from long range. His 3.3 3FGs per game also ranks 3rd in the Big Ten. The sophomore guard entered the season with a career high of 16 points, but has already topped that in 5 of the first 9 games this season. 

Marquette is going to be tall challenge for Trice though — something he hasn’t faced much this season. The length of the defense that MU can throw at you can be tricky to deal with, especially considering Trice is 4 inches shorter than anyone on the MU starting roster. 

Watching to see how the Badgers attempt to get away from that length on the perimeter is going to be interesting. Do they use Happ as a decoy and allow Trice, Davison and others to shoot from beyond the arc with a collapsing defense or do they go with a pick-and-roll style? 

As long as UW finds a way to allow Trice to take more than a few triples on the afternoon, I’d expect a productive game from the star guard. 

Prediction:

Wisconsin 72, Marquette 64

What better revenge for last season’s butt-kicking than to kick off the Fiserv Forum era in this matchup than with a win? You can bet last season’s 82-63 loss at the Kohl Center is fresh in the minds of UW and they’ll be highly motivated to prove last season was a fluke. 

Marquette is a matchup that can give the Badgers all sorts of fits, as we saw last year. But, with a healthy Trice and Kobe King, this Badgers team just plays with more confidence and more efficiency on both ends of the court. 

Look for the Badgers to edge Marquette thanks to a more disciplined style of play and fewer mistakes. Markus Howard is likely to get his buckets, but UW has been great at not allowing more than one guy to hurt them on the scoring front and I expect that to happen again today. 

Season Prediction Record: 9-0 

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Badgers guard Trevor Anderson undergoes season-ending knee surgery

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The Wisconsin Badgers 2018-19 roster got a bit thiner on Thursday morning as the program announced that sophomore point guard Trevor Anderson will miss the rest of the season. 

He will undergo knee surgery on his right knee, which he already has had a previous surgery on. 

The UW Sports Medicine staff was seen working on Anderson’s knee after he left the game against Iowa. 

“We wish Trevor all the best and he’ll have our full support as he goes through his surgery and rehab,” head coach Greg Gard said in a statement. “We look forward to having him back on the court with us in the future.”

Anderson, a transfer from Green Bay, had appeared in all eight of the games prior to his injury and had totaled 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists in those eight games. 

He was the primary backup to UW’s star point guard D’Mitrik Trice. That job will now fall to freshman Tai Strickland. He hasn’t played a ton to date, but is likely to get more playing time should Trice need rest or the Badgers don’t slide Brad Davison out to the point guard in a shifting lineup scenario. 

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