Future bright for basketball Cards

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s Kaden Fosdick finished second on the team in scoring and led the Cardinals in rebounds, steals and defensive charges taken./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It’s one thing to have potential.

Turning that into production is a whole other challenge.

That’s the task Middleton’s boys basketball team faces in 2021-22.

The Cardinals will be loaded with possibilities next winter. Whether or not Middleton can make a run at its first state tournament since 1998 — and its first under 16th-year coach Kevin Bavery — remains to be seen.

“They have to stay hungry and cannot be comfortable,” Bavery said of his team. “In fact they have to get uncomfortable and focus on their individual improvement. It won't be an easy team to make.

“There are nine months between now and the start of next season. Some will grow, some will put a ton of time and work into their game, some will take their strength and level of conditioning to new levels, and we always expect players to show up in November improved in all phases. No guarantees, but lots of opportunity.”

Middleton finished its truncated season with a 4-7 record. The Cardinals played a grueling schedule in which they packed 11 games into 16 days after they were given clearance to play.

Playing with primarily juniors and sophomores, Middleton had state powers such as Monroe and DePere on the ropes. But the Cardinals couldn’t finish the job in either instance, something that will need to change next year if Middleton hopes to make major strides.

The Cardinals also lost in the WIAA Division 1 regional quarterfinals against a Verona team that started its season the same time Middleton did. That marked the third straight year the Cardinals lost their playoff opener and the fourth year in a row they haven’t gotten out of regionals.

Middleton will return 14 of 17 players from this year’s team and add guard TJ Bauer, who was a starter last season, but missed this year due to injury. Add to that an impressive JV team and Bavery will have his hands full simply selecting a team next year.

“I would say the No. 1 thing that jumps out is we have to get stronger,” Bavery said. “It helps in every phase, especially in areas like defensive toughness, but also even in shooting. Overall head to toe strength, plus a strong core, and improved stability, really does make a big difference in both knocking down open shots as well as in finishing in the lane against contact. And we simply have to get better on the ball defensively. That was our No. 1 Achilles heel.

“We faced a lot of high level individual players this season who all made plays, but getting the ball deep on us, and then either scoring, getting to the free throw line, or finding open teammates. Anytime you can force two people to play one it becomes a problem for the defense. With that said there are a lot more positives and we're excited. But to a player they all have to make some major changes if they want to be a championship contender.”

Junior guard Logan Raffel led the Cardinals in scoring (12.7) and three-point shots made (33). Raffel also set an MHS record with nine three-pointers in a single game.

Sophomore wing Kaden Fosdick displayed a terrific all-around game and finished second on the team in scoring (8.5), first in total rebounds (45), first in steals (17) and first in defensive charges (four). Junior Nick Meinholz was third in scoring (5.7 ppg) and third in three-pointers made (11),  while sophomore Gavyn Hurley (4.1 ppg) was fourth in scoring, second in rebounds (3.0), and second in steals.

Sophomore Will Comerford was second with 13 three-pointers, while sophomore Collin Schremp was third in rebounding (29) and senior David Meier was fourth (23). Juniors Blake Van Buren and Cole Toennies added 22 and 21 rebounds, respectively.

“We should be a better shooting team than we've had in several seasons,” Bavery said. “It's probably the most enjoyable skill to practice in almost any sport, so I would expect our guys would get up a ton of shots in the offseason, with hopefully a good mix of high volume shooting and game-like shots.

“We had a few players shoot it better from three-point range than from two-point range and that's unusual. So creating that all-around game needs to be a focus for several as we want efficient scorers in all phases. We also return a lot of length. We have some guys with long reaches as well as good anticipation skills.

“We don't have many in that 6-foot-5 range, but we really liked how our post kids defended this season, even against superior height. We're hoping to have more scoring emerge from that spot, but we have some creative ideas on how to be more productive from that position even without traditional 1-on-1 post play.”

Middleton finished the year shooting 35.7% from three-point range and Bavery would like to see that number rise.

“We need that to get up to 38% collectively, and we expect our 'green light' shooters to be at 40,” he said. “We shot it surprisingly well, but we have to shoot it consistently game to game.”

Middleton finished the year outrebounding its foes, 272-249. The Cardinals also had a respectable 12.8 assists per game, but averaged an unsightly 18.0 turnovers per contest.

“Our assists were good, but need to be much better next season,” Bavery said. “Our turnovers were often unforced. Normally we spend the first couple of weeks just getting players out of bad habits like soft one hand passes, not meeting the ball, catching or rebounding with one hand, not ripping through defenders’ hands, but putting the ball overhead instead, and so on.

“It's just a reality of off-season play that typically happens over the summer when we're not practicing daily. There is value in those experiences, but there is a lot of slippage and it's not the same as in-season practice and play. Just having that time and focus will make a big difference. But we have to value both the ball and the importance of a possession much better.”

Middleton also must improve its free throw shooting after hitting just 61.2% as a team this year. On the flip side, the Cardinals’ opponents made 71.6% of their foul shots.

“A lot of those misses are the front end of 1-and-1's, so that becomes a turnover essentially,” Bavery said. “We have to get to the free throw line more, and we have to be at 73-75% as a team, with those who get to the line most frequently during the first 32 minutes of the game. In the final four minutes, when the game is often on the line, we need to be at 80%. That's where championship teams are.”

Bavery fully believes his team could contend for a Big Eight Conference championship — and a lot more — if that potential turns to production.

“When we found out in mid-January that we were going to have a season, we went with what they have done in the past,” Bavery said. “Our look will be much different next season with our thinking at this point, so players will have to come in improved and ready to learn and adapt quickly, as well as evolve over the course of hopefully a full season.”

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