Sports

After missing NCAA Tournament, Badgers men's basketball is ready to bounce back

Sophomore guard Brad Davison and the Badgers hope to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season. 

When the Wisconsin men’s basketball team took the floor for warm-ups before the “Red and White Scrimmage” Sunday, one of the first songs to play over the loudspeakers was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It was an apt choice for this year’s team, one that finds itself in uncharted territory.

After a 2017-2018 season full of injuries, heartbreaking losses and countless ups and downs, the 2018-2019 squad returns with a chip on their shoulder. After being the first Wisconsin basketball team to miss the NCAA tournament this century, this group has something to prove.

“We have a sour taste in our mouth that no other recent Wisconsin team has had,” sophomore guard Brad Davison said last month, per uwbadgers.com. “We look at that as an opportunity.”

Fortunately, the Badgers feel ready to seize that opportunity. Practically every contributor returned from last year’s team. Davison, who is the group’s emotional leader, can now enjoy the use of two functioning arms after playing much of last year with left shoulder issues. Guards Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice, who both missed nearly the entire season last year with injuries, are now healthy and ready to add depth to the backcourt. Sophomore guard Trevor Anderson, a transfer from UW-Green Bay forced to sit out last year, is now eligible and should provide a scoring threat for a team that shot less than 34 percent from three-point range in 2017-2018.

Key contributors like junior guard Brevin Pritzl, junior forward Aleem Ford and sophomore forward Nate Reuvers all worked to get in better shape this offseason.Reuvers put on weight which hopefully he will use to assert himself more physically in the low post.

Most notably, senior center Ethan Happ decided to forgo the NBA Draft and return for his senior year. Recently named an AP Preseason All-American, Happ will look to carry the team and prove to NBA scouts that he can play at the professional level.

As a result of the returning talent, the Badgers garnered 24 votes in the first AP poll of the year, a significant nod of respect to a team that finished with a losing record in the last season.

While last year’s matchups also provided a significant hurdle — after beating UW in December last year, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann called Wisconsin’s schedule “as hard a schedule as I’ve seen” — this year’s slate appears to be more forgiving. The non-conference schedule includes a road test against Xavier and some potentially tough matchups in the Battle 4 Atlantis around Thanksgiving and the requisite rivalry game against Marquette in Milwaukee on Dec. 8.

The conference schedule will also likely be less challenging. Wisconsin plays Michigan on the road in February, the only game against a team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. Also, the Badgers only play Michigan State and Purdue — the other two ranked Big Ten teams — once and have the benefit of home court advantage for those games. They will play two games each against Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois.

The Badgers tip off with an exhibition at home against the Titans of UW-Oshkosh on Nov. 2. The official season opener comes four days later against Coppin State at the Kohl Center. 

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