After winning its first three preseason games down under, the Badgers basketball team faced a completely different animal in Melbourne United, a very successful NBL team which beat Texas by 10 earlier in the week. The Badgers ended up losing 90-89 after both leading and trailing by double-digits earlier in the game. Despite the tough loss, it was a great learning experience for a young team and gave us a look at what to expect this season.
Ethan Happ is really good
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) August 20, 2017
I know, I know. We already knew this. But after five Badger-free months, I had forgotten just how good he really is. He reminded me pretty quickly. Happ spun and faked his way into 14 points. At times, he made the Melbourne United defenders, who are full grown adults and professionals, look silly. But it wasn’t just scoring. His defense was superb like usual. He also looks more comfortable passing out of double-teams than he did last year. There is a real chance Happ averages somewhere in the ballpark of 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block this season.
D’Mitrik Trice is ready to take the reigns
Trice has made a huge leap in his game from the end of last season until now. He was easily the most improved player on Wisconsin’s roster. Not only was he draining three-pointers and controlling the offense like a pro, but he was able to create opportunities for himself off the bounce. He played confidently and carried himself like a leader. Bronson Koenig is a tough player to follow, but Trice has the tools to make the transition less painful. It looks clear that he is going to be Wisconsin’s second best player this season.
Freshmen look outstanding
It is very rare for Wisconsin players to play major roles as freshmen, but Brad Davison and Kobe King are absolutely ready to contribute. Davison is going to be a fan favorite. He is a high effort, high toughness player that can both shoot and drive to the rim. He is going to garner a lot of comparisons to Josh Gasser.
King, who scored 18 points for the second straight game, looks like he will be a truly special offensive player for the Badgers. He is one of the most versatile and dynamic wings the Badgers have ever had. King can shoot from beyond the arc, get to the rim, score in the post, and attack in transition. He is also a good rebounder for a perimeter player. He is already miles ahead of Khalil Iverson offensively, and it wouldn’t shock me if he became a starter at some point this season.
Second front court position is wide open
D’Mitrik Trice and Ethan Happ will be starters. That is a stone cold lock. Brevin Pritzl and Khalil Iverson will also likely begin the season in the starting lineup, although they will have to fend off the freshmen studs. But the fifth starting spot, at power forward next to Happ, is wide open. And not in a good way.
So far, nobody has really gone out and grabbed the spot by the horns. Junior Alex Illikainen was the favorite to start, but he looks like the same player he has always been. He doesn’t provide much on offense, and while he’s decent at defending the low post, he isn’t a good rim protector.
Junior Andy Van Vliet received a lot of playing time yesterday. He shot well, draining three three-pointers. His ability to stretch the floor for Happ is very enticing, and makes him a good candidate to start. But he plays very soft on defense, and got abused in the post all game by Melbourne United.
There was also a lot of hype around redshirt freshmen Aleem Ford, but through four games he hasn’t shown much to warrant it. He hasn’t been very assertive in looking for his offense. Junior Charles Thomas is a physical rebounder, but like Illikainen, isn’t a very dynamic offensive player.
Nathan Reuvers has a lot of potential, but he is still growing both physically and mentally. He may contribute, but he is not ready to be a starter.
The power forward position is a huge cause for concern for the Badgers. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a single good option. Wisconsin badly needs someone to step up and become a capable starter. Maybe if they could combine Van Vliet and Thomas into one mega player…