Scrimmage: Wisconsin Hoops Vows Improvement

Scrimmage: Wisconsin Hoops Vows Improvement

Basketball

Scrimmage: Wisconsin Hoops Vows Improvement

MADISON, Wis. – Last season delivered a Wisconsin basketball season unfamiliar on campus for the past two decades.

Struggling to replace departed veteran leadership, battling through a challenging schedule and struggling to overcome depth-crippling, Wisconsin finished 15-18 and missed the N.C.A.A. tournament for the first time in 20 years.

The good news? Fourth-year head coach Greg Gard returns every key player from last year’s squad, including first-team All-Big Ten forward Ethan Happ, and got players healthier. Point guards D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King return after each played only 10 games last season. Luckily they both were granted medical redshirts, preserving a year of eligibility. Sophomore Brad Davison gutted through shoulder problems last season and had successful offseason surgery to fix the reoccurring problem, allowing him to play without a shoulder brace.

Throw in all the freshmen who were thrust into playing time last year who received game experience, these Badgers should have a hardened edge after experiencing last year’s failures.

QUESTION MARKS

Wisconsin is not bringing in any ‘top-tier’ recruits, so it is vital that the returning players improve significantly. Towards the end of last season, Davison emerged as the guy to go to when the team needed a score. Who else on the team can be relied upon in that capacity?

The Badgers return one player who shot over 36 percent behind the arc last year (now-sophomore Aleem Ford at 40.9 percent), so who will they rely on when they need to spread the floor? Is big man Nate Reuvers going to take a step this year after a year last year where most thought he would redshirt? How will the Badgers use freshman Tai Strickland, son of former NBA player Rod Strickland?

In Sunday’s Red-White Scrimmage, a three-period intrasquad battle that was big on defense (a major shortcoming last season), UW’s players shot 8-for-33 from 3-point range (24.2 percent), got 31 minutes from a stronger-looking Reuvers and saw Strickland come off the bench and compete.

To no surprise, Happ led all scorers with 13 points, following by Davison with 12 as the two guard and Trice with 10. It likely won’t be the last time this season this trio is UW’s top scorers.

PROJECTED STARTERS

PG – D’Mitrik Trice

SG – Brad Davison

SF – Khalil Iverson

PF – Nate Reuvers

C – Ethan Happ

I think this is the best starting lineup the team can trot out for game one. Keep in mind it’s important to have talented players coming off the bench, which is why I think guys like Pritzl and King would be good in the second rotation. Pritzl has remade his body to get stronger and more athletic, making him more than just a spot-up 3-point shooter (although that will still be a major strength of his game), and King finds other ways to contribute other than scoring. In the scrimmage, King was 1-for-6 shooting but had four rebounds, an assist and a block.

Trice brings floor spacing and poise to a team that will need it next season. Statistically he struggled in the games he played last year, but he shot over 41 percent from distance his freshman year. Davison was one of the best freshmen in the Big Ten due to his toughness and ability to make big shots in big games down the stretch. His performances were even more impressive considering how limited he was with his shoulder.

Iverson returns after starting all 33 games last season, and his rebounding, athleticism, and defensive skills will be vital to UW. If he can start consistently knocking down a mid-range jumper, he will impact the team immensely.

Reuvers looks to take the next step after his freshman year by putting on some noticeable muscle in the offseason. He is another guy that can spread the floor as a big man.

Happ is one of the best post players in the country and the clear-cut best player on this team. If there are things he can improve on, it would be at the free throw line. He averaged 6.7 attempts from the line last year, which ranked second in the Big Ten, but he shot only 55 percent on those attempts.

A lack of guard depth was one of Wisconsin’s biggest trouble points last year but enters this season appearing like it could be a strength. In addition to Ford, King and Pritzl, Wisconsin will have transfer Trevor Anderson available and could utilize Strickland.

Anderson sat out last season after transferring from UW-Green Bay, where he averaged just under 10 points a game (he did not play in the scrimmage due to a minor injury). Strickland looks college ready and adds to this team’s defensive mindset. He attacks the rim on both ends of the floor and has a motor that can push the tempo. Even with the mentioned players above him at his position, Strickland could easily play himself into the conversation of not redshirting this year.

PREDICTION

It’s hard seeing a scenario where this team isn’t significantly better than last year’s squad, as long as they stay healthy. Returning players off injury and having one of the most talented players in country should be the recipe to a solid season for Wisconsin. Most media outlets have Wisconsin pegged as a fringe top-25 team entering this year. We will find out early on where this squad sits as the Badgers will be tested in their non-conference schedule with road games at Xavier, Marquette and a preseason tournament in the Bahamas. Overall the team will be better defensively, be able to score easier with more options, finish in the top half of the Big Ten and find their way back into the NCAA tournament.

Record Prediction – 21-9 (12-6 in Big Ten)

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