Upperclassmen dominate the Wisconsin men’s basketball rotation. Koenig, Hayes, Showalter, and Brown are all experienced seniors and subsequently have a profound impact on each game. However, the often-overlooked Ethan Happ is the glue that keeps each play intact.
First, let’s get some statistical boasting out of the way. Happ, a sophomore, ranks second in the Big Ten in rebounds per game at 9.1, third in field goal percentage at 60.5%, second in steals per game at 1.9, and scores productively at 12.8 points per game, so he’s no slacker when it comes to production. Rebounding is paramount, efficient shooting leads to effective possessions, and steals often lead to fast break buckets, not to mention the 1.9 mark is coming from Wisconsin’s center, a rare feat. Mind you, Happ, as a freshman last year, led the Big Ten in steals.
With so much attention on names like Koenig and Hayes, Happ seems to blend into the woodwork somewhat, and that’s precisely the role he should continue to play. He’s dominant in the post, but double team him, and you’re leaving open a capable or knockdown shooter on the perimeter. Don’t pay him enough mind, and he’ll make you pay dearly.
Let’s run through a possession facing Indiana that paints this picture. Trice controls the ball at the top of the key, and Happ is settled at the edge of the paint. Two Hoosier defenders hover between Trice and Happ, until both decide the ball will eventually come to Happ and dart to defend him, thus leaving Trice wide open for an uncontested three. Defensive lapse or not, the level of attention that Happ garners while surrounded by shooters makes him a defensive nightmare, and he’s not even the focus of the offense.
Additionally, his presence off the ball in the post facilitates the Badger offense. Setting screen after screen in hopes of freeing up shooters is a basic but effective tactic, one which comes naturally to Happ. Capable shooters are a terrific asset for any team but without screens that lead to open shots, the luxury become less attractive. Since Happ is a gifted offensive player off the ball, that luxury can be exploited and used as a defining offensive characteristic.
Perhaps most dependable from Happ is his ability to score both deftly and efficiently. A polished post game only goes so far unless backed up by production, and Happ manages not only to score in large volumes but does so while minimizing wasted possessions. A team’s leading scorer can be an impressive feat, but the team’s third leading scorer but leader in field goal percentage may be more valuable as it relates to wins.
Happ is the unsung hero of the Badger’s early success. If his trend is consistent, be ready for a more versatile and cunning Badger squad as the season heats up.