Badgers top South Carolina State 85-50; Last shots

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball team opened up the 2017-18 regular season with a 85-50 win over visiting South Carolina State University Friday night at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin was led by Ethan Happ with 20 points and 11 rebounds on the evening. South Carolina State’s Donte Wright finished with a team-high 13 points for the Bulldogs.

This was the first meaningful game for a group of relatively new Badgers. There were definitely nerves early, but the experience of Happ showed throughout the night leading Wisconsin to the win.

Here are 13 last shots for guard D’Mitrik Trice’s 13 points:

1. Happ showed more against South Carolina State than he did in the entire preseason slate. At times in the exhibition matchups it looked as if he was taking a step back, hoping to help his teammates grow. Friday night he was able to enforce his will at the offensive end early and often, scoring 12 points in the first half. He finished with a double-double, totaling 20 points and 11 rebounds.

2. The one thing Happ did struggle with on the night was shooting from the charity stripe. He shot four-of-nine from the foul line. As a team, Wisconsin finished 11-18 on free throws, but a respectable seven-of-nine removing Happ from the equation. That’s a number the Badgers can live with against South Carolina State, but it’s something that could come back and haunt them against a more talented team.

3. While Happ led the team with 20 points, he was one of four Badgers that reached double-figures. Andy Van Vliet had a terrific game in his first game as a starter, finishing with 18 points. Guards Brevin Pritzl and Trice finished with 17 and 13 points, respectively. Both of them were three-of-six from three-point land.

4. Van Vliet was a key factor in stretching South Carolina State’s defense. The Bulldogs primarily played a zone defense, which is something Wisconsin had not seen in the previous two exhibitions against Northern Iowa and UW-Stout. Van Vliet was able to expose openings in it as a three-point shooter, going four-of-five from beyond the arc. He also hit back-to-back threes as part of a 10-0 run that stretched Wisconsin’s lead to 22 with 7:23 remaining, essentially putting the game out of reach.

5. “It feels good to have a game like that,” Van Vliet told the media after the game. “Obviously, there is still stuff to work about, coach has been on me too for defensive reasons and I know I have to work on that and be more aggressive. I feel good about tonight and finally being on the floor.”

6. Pritzl, like Happ and Van Vliet, reached double-figures in scoring in the first half. His smooth shooting stroke is something that should be much more prevalent this season than it was last year for Wisconsin. He knocked down six of the 10 shots he took and was two-of-two from the free throw stripe.

7. “Ethan has got on me about taking shots,” Pritzl said after the game. “I’m a good shooter so I’ve kind of listened to him a little more. I’ve got to be a little more aggressive.”

8. If Pritzl can continue to shoot as well from behind the arc as he did Friday, the Badgers will want him to be even more aggressive with his shot selection.

9. Freshmen Kobe King and Brad Davison both made their collegiate debuts against South Carolina State and they looked like freshmen. That’s not a slight to either of them, as they both played solid games, however it was evident there was nervousness for both during the game. King finished with six points on three-of-six shooting to go along with three rebounds and an assist. Davison had five points on one-of-three from the floor. He added in two assists and a pair of steals as well.

10. There will be nights throughout the season where one of, if not both, the freshmen will explode and reach double-figures in scoring for Wisconsin. There will also be nights like Friday for them. Developing talent takes time, but it’s something that will be worth it in the end with both the young guards.

11. Davison is going to be a player that Wisconsin fans love as long as he is on campus. He’s also going to be a pain in the neck for fans of the other 13 Big Ten schools. He’s a very scrappy defender that will pester opponents. Davison isn’t afraid to take a charge or dive for a loose ball. There will be a time in his career at Wisconsin when the reason the Badgers win a game is thanks to his hustle.

12. “I will say this, thank god we don’t have to beat Wisconsin to win our conference,” South Carolina State head coach Murray Garvin said after the game. The Bulldogs were overmatched Friday night by the Badgers, but they certainly did not lie down for them. Garvin was proud of the way his team fought Friday night and he had every reason to feel that way. In the end, Wisconsin’s talent won out.

13. Wisconsin is in action next Sunday afternoon from the Kohl Center against Yale. Tip-off is at 4pm.

Wisconsin moves to 2-0 on foreign trip

The Wisconsin basketball team improved to 2-0 on its foreign trip early Thursday morning with an 87-53 whipping of the Sky City Breakers.

For a second straight game, the revamped Badgers were hot from the outside, hitting 15 of 27 from beyond the arc. They were led by junior Andy Van Vliet, who finished with a team-high 14 points, while sophomore D’Mitrik Trice added 12 and freshmen Kobe King and Nathan Reuvers each put in nine.

Coach Greg Gard overhauled nearly his entire starting lineup for the second game of the five-game tour, going with freshman Brad Davison and sophomore Brevin Pritzl at guard, while redshirt freshman Aleem Ford joined Van Vliet and Charlie Thomas in the front court.

Wisconsin will now head to Australia for the final three games of the trip.

Red-White Scrimmage: Koenig impresses, sophomores look more comfortable, Van Vliet from 3 & more

MADISON — The Wisconsin basketball held its Red-White Scrimmage on Sunday at the Kohl Center with the Red team coming out on top 48-46.

Some observations:

1) Koenig impresses

There’s been a lot of talk about Bronson Koenig and the work he put in during the offseason to remake his body, and in turn, become a more complete player. It was just a glorified practice, but the senior showed his time was well spent.

He had the play of the game, crossing over his defender to get into the lane and then delivering a no-look pass to Alex Illikainen for a layup. Koenig also drilled a pair of 3-pointers, finishing with a team-high 16 points, including 14 in the first half.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Koenig said when asked if that effort was what he was hoping to show fans. “I had glimpses here and there, but I didn’t show everything yet.”

Koenig added that this was the first extended time the team has played 5-on-5 this fall, and it showed at times with what appeared to be some miscommunications that led to him turning the ball over seven times. Still, the first glimpse of Koenig’s makeover lived up to expectations.

2) Second-year players look more comfortable

As you’d expect, the guys that saw time last year as true freshmen look much more comfortable this year.

Khalil Iverson showed increased confidence in getting into the lane and drawing contact, and with his improved stroke from the free throw line, was able to make the other team pay for it. The sophomore also handled the ball well, dishing out four assists and did not have a turnover. His work with the ball was an offseason focus and he might be able to get some time running the point like he did in high school.

Charlie Thomas, or as he’s apparently going by this year, Charles Thomas IV, drilled the one 3-pointer he took, while Illikainen was a perfect 4 of 4 from the field, and grabbed seven rebounds. The battle for playing time between these two will be among the more interesting stories to watch here in the preseason.

3) Van Vliet shows his range

After being forced to sit out last season, sophomore Andy Van Vliet made his presence felt early, drilling a pair of 3-pointers — both of them bank shots — and he ended up with a total of 7 points and pulled in 8 rebounds.

“I don’t think we can count on banking in 3’s all the time,” coach Greg Gard quipped afterwards.

Van Vliet’s length is something last year’s team was missing. The 7-footer can affect shots in the lane, and as he puts more weight on (he’s up 25 pounds to 225), could become a force inside and out.

4) Freshmen show glimpses

Wisconsin’s two true freshmen scholarship players each showed why Gard and company wanted them.

At 6-foot-7, Aleem Ford is long and athletic, blocking a pair of shots and forcing several more tough ones, while D’Mitrick Trice was solid, and his one make came off a crossover pull-up jumper that looked similar to what we’ve seen Koenig do in past years.

With as deep a team as this one, it’s unclear how much time either guy will see, but they both would seem to give Wisconsin’s coaching staff a lot of talent to work with moving forward.

5) Don’t overreact

Wisconsin will start the season inside the top 10 of the USA Today Coaches poll, and there were some, including ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, who said that was too high, with his reasoning being that he couldn’t get the image of Nigel Hayes’ issues shooting the ball last season out of his mind. Hayes did little to change that on Sunday, going just 2 of 8 from the floor and 1 of 5 from beyond the arc.

But just like we can’t take all the positive things as being the truth, the same goes for the other side of it. So while, yes, Hayes didn’t shoot it well, let’s wait more than one scrimmage before passing judgment on whether this effort will be the norm this season.

Red White Box Score

Greg Gard likes the progress of his team so far this summer

MADISON | Minutes will be at an absolute premium this fall for the Wisconsin basketball team. With the Badgers returning their top 10 players from a year ago — along with adding potential contributors in sophomore forward Andy Van Vliet and redshirt freshman guard Brevin Pritzl to the mix — the competition to get on the floor could be at an all-time high. And second-year head coach Greg Gard is just fine with that.

“It’s going to be very competitive as we get back into school in September and we start practices late September and early October,” Gard said Tuesday during a teleconference promoting the Maui Invitational. “And that’s exactly what we want. Competition is very good and there will be a lot of guys fighting for minutes.”

To this point, the team has had seven practices this summer. And with such a veteran team, Gard said he has mixed things up to keep it fresh.

“We’ve done a lot of different things,” he said. “We’ve drilled a lot. We’ve played a little. We’ve done a lot of skill work. And I’ve really mixed groups around. Whether it’s been one-on-one competition or groups of five. I’ve really thrown them curveballs every single day that we’ve been in the gym. They’ve handled it well.”

Among those going through the paces is Pritzl. The top-rated recruit in Wisconsin’s class of 2015, the sharp-shooting guard broke his foot last August and underwent surgery that kept him out of action until November. He played four minutes in a blowout win over Sienna, before re-injuring the foot prior to Wisconsin’s game against Syracuse in early December. He wouldn’t suit up again, and didn’t get cleared for full-contact work until last month.

“Rusty,” Gard said when asked on Monday what he’s seen from Pritzl this summer. “I think there is no doubt it’s evident he hasn’t played in a year. He can still make shots. Obviously that part of his game has come back pretty quickly, but it’s missing all the defensive work, all the timing, all the things that go into – the other things that don’t involve shooting – that make you a complete player. And that’s something he’s working back [to].

“Conditioning is still something he’s trying to get back, but in terms of the overall injury itself, I think he’s feeling pretty good and pretty confident. It’s just a matter of trying to make up for lost time in all those other areas.”

Many observers of the program considered Pritzl to be the best shooter on last year’s team, an element the group was missing for large stretches of the season. And now, despite having so many experienced players back, there appears to be a role for a guy that averaged 25.5 points per game as a senior in high school.

“I’ve tried to emphasize with him to be patient,” Gard said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time and to not rush and get frustrated with yourself when things don’t go as well, or you don’t quite have the timing or the speed of the game down yet. That’ll come in time.

The main thing for him is to work his way back at the pace that the doctors and trainers want him to, and so far, he’s done that pretty well. It’s just obviously been frustrating for him because he expects to play at a high level immediately, and that’s not going to happen when you’ve missed that much time.”