Beginning on August 12th, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team will take a trip to the Down Under, where they will play five games against various New Zealand and Australian professional teams. The goal of the trip is the same as is was when the Badgers last took an international trip back in 2014: To build chemistry, experience, and comfort. Aside from the obvious benefit it should give to the team heading into the regular season, it will also answer some of the questions fans have about this new collection of Badgers.
How will Ethan Happ’s outside shot translate to games?
If you haven’t been paying attention to the news this off-season, you might be rubbing your eyes and thinking you misread that. “What do you mean Ethan Happ’s outside shot? He doesn’t have an outside shot.” But is has been reported by CBS’s Matt Norlander that Happ has been working on his jump shot, and is now ready to begin taking three-pointers in games.
While it is great that Happ is expanding his game, it is fair to be skeptical. This is a guy that attempted only three shots outside the paint in his entire career. His form looks more like an Olympic style shot put than a basketball shot, and his free throw percentage last season was 50%. So it’s hard to believe his is going to have a consistent jump shot this season.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) July 20, 2017
The games in Australia will be the first chance for Wisconsin fans to see what the shot looks like when he is actually being guarded. If Happ can actually be a consistent threat from outside, the sky is the limit for both him and the team for the next two years.
How will Happ adapt to being the leader of the team?
Aside from his jump shot, it will be interesting to see how Happ adjusts to being the focal point of the offense. He was already the best player on the team last season, but he had a pair of senior stars in Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes to provide support. This season, it is going to be him surrounded by a bunch of question marks.
Because of his new role, he is going to have to play a little differently. He will probably see even more double teams this season, so he’ll have to do a better job picking it apart and finding the open man. He will also need to stay out of foul trouble, something he struggled to do in big games last season. Most importantly, he’ll have to be a vocal leader. For the last to years, Hayes, Koenig, and even Zak Showalter were vital in their leadership roles. With so many young players on the team this year, it is going to be very important for Happ to do the same. The trip to Australia will be his first chance to do that in real game situations.
Can D’Mitrik Trice be a reliable starting point guard?
Trice had a successful season as true freshmen, averaging 5.6 points and 1.7 assists in relief of Koenig. He showed flashes of his sky-high potential with his sweet shooting stroke and his outstanding court vision. But going from the backup point guard to actually having to command the offense for 30-35 minutes per game is a huge transition.
This five game stretch in Australia will be a great opportunity for Wisconsin fans and coaches to see just how close Trice is to being ready to lead the team, both on the court and off it. How he plays this season will in large part determine how successful the Badgers are, so this is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Will Brevin Pritzl find his shooting stroke?
The offense will obviously run through Happ. As a returning All-American, Happ should be one of the best big men in the country this season. But who else will put the ball in the basket for Wisconsin? Every good team needs at least three reliable options.
One potential candidate is Brevin Pritzl. He came into Wisconsin as a four-star recruit known for his shooting ability. Since than, there have been plenty of practice reports about his shooting prowess. Hayes even called him the best shooter in the country. It hasn’t translated to games yet, as Pritzl was just 24% from deep as a freshman. Australia will be a good opportunity for him to get confident shooting in games.
Is the Aleem Ford hype warranted?
The Wisconsin basketball program has made a habit of finding diamonds in the rough, and the 6’8 Ford could be the latest example. Wisconsin’s coaches certainly think so. According to 247’s Evan Flood, Lamont Paris said that “there is no doubt Ford has all the tools.” Flood also reported that Wisconsin coaches agree that Ford has a chance to be an absolute star.
The Wisconsin State Journal’s Jim Polzin tweeted that he thinks Ford has “the potential to be really good.” It seems like all the coaches, reporters, and anyone else that has seen Ford play agree. The only thing left is to see Ford in live game action. Australia will be a great test to see if Ford can indeed follow in the footsteps of Ethan Happ and be a star as a redshirt freshman.
Will any of the junior big men step up?
Expectations were high for the trio of Alex Illikainen, Andy van Vliet, and Charles Thomas when they came to Madison as freshmen. But as juniors, those expectations have vastly receded. Illikainen and Thomas have both shown flashes of being good role players, but neither of them has demonstrated anything remotely resembling consistency. Meanwhile, van Vliet has struggled to find the court.
Although fans may be disappointed in the groups first two seasons, it is too early to give up hope. For every Sam Dekker, Hayes, Koenig or Happ at Wisconsin, there is always a Frank Kaminsky, Vitto Brown, Ben Brust, or Jared Berggren- players that struggled early, but broke out later in their careers.
Brown, the most recent example, barely played at all during his first two seasons, but became solid starting power forward over his last two. Hopefully, the trio of Illikainen, Thomas, and van Vliet can follow in Browns footsteps. The first step to making that goal a reality is a strong showing in Australia.
Which freshmen can make an immediate impact?
Wisconsin’s three man freshman class is one of their most highly regarded classes in the last decades. Brad Davison is a four-star point guard that has great intangibles and can really shoot. Kobe King is an athletic four-star slashing wing that is adept at putting the ball in the basket. The prize of the class, Nathan Reuvers, is a 6 foot 11 center with the ability to stretch the floor. This class is special, and the games in Australia will be their first chance to show it.
Which players will earn the last three starting spots?
Anything short of World War III starting (no North Korea, this is not a challenge) and Ethan Happ will be starting for the Badgers. It is probably safe to pencil in Trice as the starting point guard. The last three sports are up for grabs though, and the games in Australia are a good chance for players to make their early push for the spots.
At shooting guard, Pritzl will try to fend off King and Davison. The competition at small forward is between Iverson and Ford. As for power forward… I honestly have no idea. It’s going to be complete chaos. Illikainen, Thomas, and van Vliet will all have chances to earn the spot. Reuvers also has the talent to put up a fight. Even walk-on Aaron Moesch could win the spot. The Badgers also could elect to go small and put Ford at the four. Either way, it will be interesting to see how all the battles play out in Australia.
Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class
Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.
First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.
The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.
“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.
“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”
But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.
Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.
Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.
The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.
Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.
With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.
Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.
It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.
Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.
It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.
Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.
Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class
It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.
The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.
Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.
Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.
He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.
It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.
“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”
“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”
Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.
It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.
Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.
Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class
What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.
He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.
Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.
However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.
Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.
This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.
While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.
The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.
With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.
When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.
However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.
It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.
He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.
Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks
They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.
Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.
Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.
Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.
In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.
This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.
As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.
Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.
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