Ethan Happ, a redshirt junior from Milan, Ill., received little buzz coming out of high school as a three-star recruit. But it has only taken him two seasons on the court in Madison to establish himself as one of the best players in the country. Building off a stellar sophomore campaign in which he led UW in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, Happ is poised to make the leap from key contributor to go-to man. Happ’s game is based on doing a little bit of everything through consistency and fundamentals, an approach that helped him earn first team All-Big Ten and third team All-American honors last year, as well as conference defensive player of the year. His versatility is exemplified by the fact that he was the only player in the nation to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals in conference play. Happ’s only real weakness is his free-throw shooting — last season he shot 50 percent from the charity stripe on 162 attempts. Expectations are high for Happ this season, and there is good reason to believe he will not disappoint. If he stays a full four years, the lanky 21-year-old is on pace to finish in the program’s top five in points, field goal percentage, field goals made, rebounds, steals, blocks, games started and games played. None of these numbers, however, are Happ’s most impressive or interesting stat. Consider this: He has still not attempted a single 3-pointer in his 2009 career minutes.
Poised to take over the reins of the offense in 2017-’18 after performing the role of understudy to Badger shooting guard Bronson Koenig last season, Trice, now in his sophomore season, will be essential if Wisconsin is to have any success in a resurgent Big Ten. Last year, Trice built a solid foundation as a true freshman, appearing in all 37 games for the Badgers and starting two of them while Koenig nursed a calf injury in February. Trice tallied the most minutes, points and assists of any of the Badgers’ reserves last season. The Ohio native led the team in three-point percentage, tallying an impressive .418 from behind the arc on 2.5 attempts per game. He also proved to be a tough man to beat on defense, gaining experience by facing some of college basketball’s best players in UNC’s Joel Berry and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, among others. Trice’s role will certainly expand with his insertion into the starting lineup this year, particularly on the offensive end where the Badgers are missing their top three three-point options from last season. Trice will need to be the team’s lead facilitator and perhaps primary deep threat in an offense that will require plenty of time to gel in the beginning of the 2017-’18 campaign. This summer in Australia and New Zealand, Trice showed promise as the Badgers’ floor general, leading the team in scoring (12.4 ppg) over the five game exhibition showcase.
Iverson enters his third season in Madison hoping to expand his role from the previous two years. Seasoned veterans filled the guard-forward roles during Iverson’s freshman and sophomore campaigns, relegating him to just under 15 minutes of playing time per game through the first half of his career. However, Iverson usually found a way to make those minutes count, providing a spark with big dunks, blocks (he ranked second on the team last season with 0.6 per game) or key rebounds. The junior from Delaware, Ohio, will get his first shot at significant minutes this season and will be an essential piece on both ends of the floor. As one of the Big Ten’s most athletic players, his speed, strength and leaping ability provide the Badgers with a player that causes matchup issues on offense and a player that can defend multiple positions on the other end.
Head coach Greg Gard and company would certainly love to see Iverson add a more consistent jump shot to his game. Last year he shot at a .308 clip from long range on less than half an attempt per game. Also notable is the fact that Iverson played his best basketball towards the end of the 2016-’17 season, tallying season highs in points, rebounds and assists in various NCAA tournament games.
Andy Van Vliet:
After a 2016-’17 season that ended rather abruptly in the Sweet 16, junior center Andy Van Vliet hopes to make his mark on a Badgers squad that lost four out of its five starters to graduation. At 7-feet, the Belgian big man is the tallest player on UW’s roster and hopes to use that height to his advantage. A lanky, soft-shooting player, Van Vliet has continued to work on his shooting, as well as touch around the basket. During the offseason, Van Vliet has taken the time to get stronger and should be the recipient of more playing time now that the likes of Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown are gone.
Another player that has had an up-and-down career as a Badger is redshirt sophomore sharpshooter Brevin Pritzl. The 6-foot-3 native of De Pere, Wis., started out his college career with a broken foot that cost him the majority of his freshman season and hasn’t been the same player since. Last season, Pritzl appeared in 24 games but couldn’t find the shooting touch that he was known for in high school, only averaging 1.9 points per contest. During the Red vs. White game, Pritzl was seen getting his shot back, with all three of his first three-point attempts hitting the bottom of the net, showing just how lethal a player he can be when he is healthy and surrounded by the right cast of characters. He took strides on the defensive end last season, though, and has frequently discussed the importance of helping the Badgers more than just from behind the arc. Look for Pritzl to start at shooting guard to open the season and play a big role for the Badgers.
The loss of former standout Zak Showalter will hurt, but the Badgers seem to have found his successor. Brad Davison, who received offers from several Big Ten teams, shows much of the same scrappy and aggressive play Showalter brought to the team. Davison is fearless on the court, willing to take charges, plays stout defense and battles with the big men when necessary. In the Red-White scrimmage, Davison finished with 10 points, five rebounds and a team-high three steals in 35 minutes, along with two assists to pair with his standout day. Davison brings a leadership and competitive mindset to the floor that the Badgers will need if they want to contend for a conference title this year.
Joining the youth movement at Wisconsin this year is Kobe King. King, who formerly won Mr. Basketball, as well as Gatorade athlete in Wisconsin, brings a sophisticated but strong game to the Badgers. In the Red-White Scrimmage, King led the team with 16 points, going 7-of-13 from the field, and showed he can play tough inside, but also has an outside game that must be respected. King has potential to be an extremely versatile player for the Badgers this season. At 6’4’’, he has the ability to run the point, but can also slide to play the two or three if needed. Underrated by many, prepare for King to have a strong freshman campaign.