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What Can We Learn From Wisconsin Basketball’s Foreign Trip?

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.

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.


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