Wisconsin’s basketball team polished off a successful five-game exhibition trip to New Zealand and Australia with an 83-71 victory over the Sydney Kings on Tuesday. The Badgers closed their tour 4-1 and return to Madison having gained valuable lessons with a young roster.
Wisconsin won’t play another opponent until UW-Stout comes to town for an exhibition game Nov. 5. Until then, here are five things we learned about the Badgers from their foreign trip.
1. UW won’t rely on one player to carry scoring load
Perhaps the most surprising development was that a different player led Wisconsin in scoring in each of its five exhibition games — and none of them was first-team All-Big Ten forward Ethan Happ.
In the first game against the New Zealand Breakers, Badgers guard Brevin Pritzl scored a team-high 28 points.
In Game 2 against the Breakers, forward Andy Van Vliet tallied 14 points. Freshman guard Kobe King paced Wisconsin with 18 points in the third game against the Hawthorn Magic. Sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice scored 19 points in Game 4 against Melbourne United, and freshman guard Brad Davison broke out for 25 points in the team’s final game against the Sydney Kings.
“I think the different leading scorers shows the diversity of this team and how we can get production from a lot of different ways,” Badgers coach Greg Gard told UWBadgers.com after the final game. “The potential of this group is what has the coaching staff so excited.”
The only proven commodity on the roster is Happ, who averaged 12 points per game on the trip. He produced his typical all-around game against the Sydney Kings by going for 15 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals. But the Badgers must be encouraged by the contributions they received around him. Trice led the team in scoring overall at 12.4 points per game. Pritzl added 11.4 ppg and Davison tallied 11.2. Expect to see plenty of those three guards when the season begins.
2. This could be a solid 3-point shooting team
Last season, Wisconsin ranked 131st in the country in 3-point shooting percentage, connecting on 35.9 percent of its attempts. But two of the more prolific 3-point shooters from the roster that are gone did not shoot particularly well. Forward Vitto Brown tallied the second-most 3-point attempts last season but shot 31.9 percent. Forward Nigel Hayes took the fifth-most 3s and shot 31.4 percent.
Given the amount of talent at guard, the Badgers figure to utilize more of their backcourt this season. And that should be a good thing when it comes to the 3-point line, particularly if the team’s exhibition trip is any indication.
Wisconsin made 48 of 107 3-point tries in its five games overseas, good for 44.8 percent. That’s even more impressive considering the international 3-point line exceeds the NCAA line by about 18 inches.
The Badgers produced only one poor performance from behind the arc. In Game 3 against the Hawthorn Magic, Wisconsin made 3 of 17 3s. But UW scored enough inside and at the free-throw line to prevail, 75-68.
Wisconsin shot 10 for 20 from the outside in Game 1 against the Breakers; 15 for 30 in the Game 2 rematch; 12 for 20 in Game 4 against Melbourne United; and 8 for 20 in Game 5 against the Sydney Kings. That’s 50 percent in those four contests.
Trice, Pritzl, King, Davison and Van Vliet can all shoot from outside, and they showed it during the trip.
Yes, Wisconsin loses point guard Bronson Koenig, who left as the school’s all-time leader in made 3-point field goals. Koenig shot a solid 39.8 percent on 3s last season. But his replacement, Trice, shot 41.8 percent. And during the exhibition tour, Trice shot 50 percent on 3s (11 for 22).
3. Wisconsin’s 3 freshmen will make an immediate impact
Pritzl and Trice raved about the talent of Wisconsin’s three freshmen before they left for the exhibition tour. Gard said that if outside observers walked into the gym and watched the team, they likely wouldn’t be able to identify who the freshmen were based on their play.
How right they all were. The trio of Davison, King and forward Nathan Reuvers has a chance to be special.
Davison was tremendous in the final game when he scored 25 points. His layup helped Wisconsin cap a 9-2 run that gave the Badgers a 59-57 lead. He later scored eight consecutive points, with back-to-back 3-pointers and a basket inside. Davison is a tough-nosed player who will remind Badgers fans of Josh Gasser and Zak Showalter. Players with that much will, determination and talent are tough to keep off the court.
King also demonstrated what makes him such a solid player. In Game 3 against the Hawthorn Magic, he made 6 of 8 field goals and 6 of 7 free throws to lead the Badgers with 18 points. He added 5 rebounds, which included 4 on the offensive end. He scored 18 points again in Game 4 and made both of his 3-point attempts.
Reuvers, meanwhile, possesses athleticism and a soft 3-point touch. He scored 9 points in Game 2 against the Breakers while making 4 of 5 field goals, including a 3-pointer, and finished strong with 10 points and 6 rebounds in the Badgers’ final game.
This could prove to be the most significant recruiting class for Wisconsin since 2013, which featured Hayes, Koenig and Brown, among others.
4. Brevin Pritzl should be one of the Badgers’ top scorers — and 3-point shooters
Pritzl arrived at Wisconsin with much fanfare after finishing his career at De Pere High School as the program’s all-time leading scorer. However, he played only 4 minutes of one game in the 2015-16 season before suffering a broken left foot. He took a medical redshirt and returned last season, but he didn’t resemble the player many saw in high school.
Last season, Pritzl appeared in 24 games and averaged 8.1 minutes, 1.9 points and 1.1 rebounds. The most startling statistic was his 3-point shooting. Pritzl connected on only 5 of 19 long-range tries (23.8 percent). During one interview last season, Hayes declared Pritzl “the best shooter in the country,” which teammates only saw in practice. From Nov. 29 to March 10, Pritzl shot 1 of 15 on 3s in games.
But Pritzl’s time to shine is now, and he showed his full capabilities in the exhibition opener against the New Zealand Breakers. Pritzl scored a game-high 28 points and made 7 of 9 3-point attempts. He connected on at least one 3-pointer in every game and finished a blistering 14 of 21 (66.7 percent) from behind the arc. He also ended the trip third on the team in scoring.
Wisconsin needs Pritzl to become a more consistent scoring threat, and he appears ready to take over that role.
5. Ethan Happ will remain one of the most versatile players in college basketball
No, Happ didn’t lead Wisconsin in scoring in any game in Europe. But he did a little bit of everything, which is something Badgers fans have grown accustomed to seeing from the team’s standout player.
For the five-game tour, Happ averaged 12.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals. He tallied a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the first game, added 16 points in Game 4, and stuffed the stat sheet in the finale with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals.
Last season was special for Happ. He earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press as a redshirt sophomore and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. He was the only player in the nation to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals during conference play.
Happ said before the trip that he didn’t believe his role would change much this season despite the loss of the team’s other four starters. He may have to become more of a leader, but his ability to affect the game in many ways will remain the same. He is an excellent passer, is pesky to defend under the basket and is extremely good at sealing passing lines and collecting steals. The most significant flaw in his game last season came at the free-throw line, where he shot 50 percent (81 for 162).
Happ has spent a great deal of time working on his free throws. And for those who are curious, he shot 62.5 percent from the line overseas (10 for 16). It’s a small sample size, but any improvement is good.
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