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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Northern Iowa basketball preview

Wisconsin begins its 2017-18 journey with a charity exhibition against Northern Iowa, we preview what to watch for in this matchup.

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball season officially gets underway on Wednesday night, well at least in terms of exhibition basketball. It will be a unique experience at the Kohl Center for sure.

Instead of Northern Iowa and Wisconsin meeting in a secret gym off both campuses, the two have gotten an NCAA waiver and will play for free in the Kohl Center. However, there will be funds raised for Team Rubicon, a charity our Andy Coppens has worked with in the past. It’s run by former Badgers football player and Marine, Jake Woods. All proceeds will benefit their first responders efforts by this all-volunteer veteran-driven organization all over the world, including their work in hurricane ravaged areas and the recent fires in the Pacific Northwest and California.

So, if you are in Madison and want to catch the Badgers for free while also donating to a good cause, this is your chance.

It also represents a chance for us to debut our new preview format, as we are calling it “The Starting 5” and we will give you the five most interesting notes, facts and observations about the game to come. So, enjoy our look at UW basketball all season.

1: This is Wisconsin’s 1st open exhibition of the season 

The University of Wisconsin has gotten some game time in already, but it played the University of Missouri in a closed-door scrimmage. So, that means this is the first look at the Badgers for the 2017-18 season. It also means our first real look in to how Gard sees this team lining up for the season. If the Mizzou scrimmage is any indication, don’t be surprised to see a starting five of D’Mitrick Trice, Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson, Andy Van Vliet and Ethan Happ.

2: Northern Iowa’s Adam McDermott is on his second team and is a sophomore sharp-shooter

If you’ve ever seen the Panthers under head coach Ben Jacobsen, then you know this team has had its fair share of sharp shooters on the wings. That was not the case last season, but don’t be surprised to see that return in 2017-18 as the son of former UNI and now Creighton head coach Greg McDermott returns to the court. He was a beast from beyond the arc in his lone season at North Dakota, hitting on 40.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Wisconsin needs to show it has the ability to work on defense around the perimeter, and that likely starts with Pritzl vs. McDermott.

3: How will the three newcomers look in preseason for UW

Wisconsin had one of its best recruiting classes sign for the 2017-18 season, but this will be most Badgers fans first opportunity to see them play. That is unless you were staying up late for games in Australia and New Zealand. In-state legend Kobe King and Minnesota product Brad Davison seem the most likely to get major minutes, but I’m most interested to see how big man Nathan Reuvers looks in a game against fellow NCAA players. Wisconsin’s depth up front really lacks another post option to Happ. Can Reuvers be that man right away? It certainly feels like all three have the capacity to see minutes this year, but Reuvers has to likely beat out the defense-first mindset of Charlie Thomas if he is going to get those minutes. Keep an eye on him and the rest of the newcomers, because depth is going to come from them if it comes at all this season.

4: Wisconsin returns four players who saw major minutes last season, even if only one starter returns

While the Badgers technically only return one full-time starter from last season, it isn’t like the new guys are devoid of any experience at all. Lets not forget that D’Mitrick Trice played a ton of minutes and saw starting action with Bronson Koenig injured for parts of last season. Brevin Pritzl saw his minutes increase throughout last season and was one of Wisconsin’s most pesky defenders, while Khalil Iverson also became a defensive stopper to go with his high-flying offensive attack. Those three averaged 14 minutes per game, with Trice going for just over 18, Iverson just over 15 and Pritzl just over eight minutes per game. Let’s see how the increased roles fit them early on this season.

5: That is the number of made FT’s by Ethan Happ against Missouri

If there was an Achilles heel for the Badgers last season it was their inability to shoot well from the free throw line. Ethan Happ was a major reason for that issue, shooting just 50 percent on the season from the free throw line. Well, against Missouri Happ was highly efficient from the charity stripe, going 5 of 6 on the night. In fact, the Badgers appear to be a much better free throw shooting team as a whole entering this season. Given Happ’s work around the rim, it will be important to see him improve from the line.

Prediction: Wisconsin 75, Northern Iowa 62

This isn’t the Northern Iowa team of old, you know the one no one wanted to see in the NCAA tournament back in the day. Instead, head coach Ben Jacobsen has a roster in transition and in need of a big spark given all that left in the offseason for the Panthers and all the flaws that existed too. For as much transition as the Badgers are undergoing, UNI is doing it with less talent from top to bottom. They simply won’t have an answer for Happ, even if Bennett Koch is a good post player and the Badgers depth gets the win in the second half.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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