Expectations couldn’t be higher for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team this year. After back-to-back Final Fours and a run to the Sweet 16 last year, the Badgers have become a national fixture on the college basketball season.
With stars like Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig forming the nucleus of one of the nation’s strongest teams on paper only a few players could make a significant contribution to matter much to this team.
Enter 6-11 Belgian forward Andy Van Vliet.
He could’ve been a factor last season, but a well-documented fight with the NCAA led to him losing that year of eligibility. Instead of pouting, Van Vliet went to work and added an impressive 25 pounds to his wiry frame.
That work, coupled with his reputation as an outside sharp shooter, made him an intriguing name to watch as last season wound down.
Few coaches and few programs in the country know what to do with near 7-footers who can bury a triple like the Badgers.
If Sunday’s annual Red-White scrimmage was an indication, teams are going to have a lot to worry about when Van Vliet is on the court.
He went 2 of 5 from deep, only taking shots from the outside and also added a point from the free throw line. All of that is to be expected, but Van Vliet showed that the Badgers should trust him as more than just a gimmick player in a 6-11 frame.
That’s because he added eight rebounds to the seven points he hit on the day. Van Vliet’s extra 25 pounds has made it easier for him to play around the rim and grab rebounds.
Amazingly, it wasn’t the best of days in front of head coach Greg Gard.
“I don’t think you can count on him banking in 3s all the time,” said Gard after the scrimmage. “I thought yesterday he practiced as well as he has practiced in two years. He’s going through it for the first time too, so there are going to be some things we can learn from. This is going to be a great film to watch and use to improve.”
How many teams have a player who can rebound and play defense around the rim on one end and turn around and have that same player shoot over you from 25 feet out?
Good luck figuring that puzzle out when combined with the likes of Happ, Hayes and Koenig on the floor.
While it was just a scrimmage, it was also living and breathing proof that all the talk and hype behind the scenes wasn’t just that. Van Vliet adds something to the Badgers that they need, and it could be the biggest difference maker in how teams have to adjust to Wisconsin during a game.