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The Starting 5: Wisconsin at Northwestern basketball preview

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Three games in one week will challenge the Wisconsin Badgers, especially since the middle game will be in a place they haven’t played in in a very long time. Yes, the Badgers will take on the Northwestern Wildcats, but it won’t be at venerable Welsh-Ryan arena. Instead, we’ll get the treat that used to be DePaul’s home court — the Allstate Arena.

It will be a new venue for the Badgers, who have never played at the arena in any capacity before.

These two teams also come in to this one in vastly different shape than they did in the first meeting, a 60-52 win for Northwestern over the Badgers. UW is on a multi-game win streak, while Northwestern is on a four-game losing streak.

Can Confident Pritzl Continue Hot-Hand?

As Brevin Pritzl was busy dropping three-point bombs on Minnesota in an overtime victory, many fans were left wondering where this version of Pritzl has been. He was super confident, played well on defense and got himself major playing time.

By the end of the game, Pritzl had put up a career-best 20 points and virtually willed the Badgers to victory over arch-rival Minnesota.

It turns out, the defensive side of the ball may be where the confidence and the new-look Pritzl is coming from. According to head coach Greg Gard, his junior shooting guard just hasn’t put it all together on the other end of the court to go with the shooting prowess everyone has seen except in the majority of games.

“The kid can shoot the ball, but that’s not the only part of a game,” Gard said earlier this week. “He’s growing in those other areas and is now becoming a more reliable, dependable, consistent player.”

Expecting Pritzl to bomb away for 20 points a night might be too much to ask, he has indeed become a much more consistent player over the past few weeks. He’s scored in double figures in three of the last four games and is averaging a healthy 14 points per game over that four-game stretch. Pritzl is also averaging 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and is shooting 58 percent from the field while only turning the ball over twice in those four games.

That’s a mark of someone who appears to have fully turned the corner and someone the coaching staff has confidence in once again.

Considering Northwestern’s defensive issues, having a hot-shooting and more consistent playing Pritzl on board is a good sign for the Badgers. Just how long will it last though?

Gard Needs to Erase Bad Start vs. Northwestern

For all the good that has happened in the nearly three full years of Greg Gard at the helm of the Badgers program, playing the Wildcats of Northwestern hasn’t been good times.

UW is just 1-3 against the Wildcats in the last four games as the head coach and the lone win was a 76-48 blowout victory in last season’s Big Ten tournament. Maybe a “neutral” site will help in this situation?

Additionally, Wisconsin has won five of the last six road games against Northwestern. Will that trend continue on Thursday or will Gard’s troubles in figuring out Northwestern rear its ugly head.

Northwestern Stumbling to the End

Wisconsin now owns its first multi-game win streak in Big Ten play, but the opposition on Thursday night is heading in the completely opposite direction. Northwestern has fallen apart down the stretch, losing four in a row and having lost five since that win at the Kohl Center.

A lot of the failures for the Wildcats comes down to simply not having the personnel on the court to win big games. Bryant McIntosh has been shut down for the season, and that’s a major blow against a Badgers team that has struggled up until late against perimeter shooters and slashers.

While its tempting to see Northwestern as a team in crisis, this season has taught us to not trust almost anything we’ve seen from the Badgers. UW looked like it was turning the corner in two wins against Illinois earlier this season, only to lay an egg in the very next game in each case.

Now the Badgers are red-hot and Northwestern is as cold as anyone in the Big Ten. Will that mean a Badgers victory or will the Wildcats snap out of their cold spell?

First to 60 Wins

It seems clichéd to say that, but it has been true for the Wisconsin Badgers this season, and it certainly has been true for the Northwestern Wildcats.

Wisconsin is 12th in Big Ten play, averaging 63.9 points per game and right behind them in 13th are the Wildcats, averaging 62.9 points per game themselves. Northwestern is also 13th in the league in field goal shooting, averaging just 40.1 percent as a team. The Badgers aren’t much better, shooting just 43 percent in Big Ten play themselves.

Point being, this game could either be really ugly for both teams or one. Good luck figuring out which team will show up on either part on Thursday night.

Prediction:

Wisconsin 66, Northwestern 50

Lost in the offensive firepower seen from Pritzl and Brad Davison of late has been UW’s ability to turn up the pressure on the other end of the court. Northwestern can be dangerous because of the length it possess in the starting five, but this group isn’t deep at all (even less so than the Badgers are).

I expect Pritzl to keep up with the double-digit scoring and I also expect Northwestern’s short bench to get tested by Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson down low.

Wisconsin exacts some revenge and blows out the Wildcats.

 

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Big Ten hands out opponent assignments for Badgers basketball in 2019-20

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The 2018-19 season has been over for just a few weeks now, but the Big Ten is already looking forward to the 2019-20 season.

On Wednesday afternoon it announced the conference opponents for the 20-game slate for each team.

With the switch to the 20-game conference slate last season it means every team will play three team only at home, another three only on the road and the other seven teams in a home-and-home scenario.

Fans will see Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern travel to the Kohl Center for the lone game between them. Wisconsin will travel to Iowa, Michigan and Penn State only.

That leaves home-and-home games against Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers.

Wisconsin’s faithful followers will see five of the Big Ten’s representatives in this past year’s NCAA tournament come to the Kohl Center at some point next season.

Only Michigan shows up as a lone road game against a Big Ten team to make the tournament this past year as well.

UW will also host Fred Hoiberg, the new coach at Nebraska, for the first time and that should certainly be interesting.

The Big Ten has not released a full schedule of the order of games, but it looks like the Badgers are going to have to fight hard given the teams they will face in home-and-home scenarios.

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Could Badgers land Hauser brothers after all?

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Few in-state recruiting battles have been as fierce or potentially game-changing for the Wisconsin-Marquette rivalry as those of Joey and Sam Hauser.

On Monday, the brothers announced their intentions to transfer from the Golden Eagles program.

A report by Steven Watson of WISN-TV in Milwaukee says that the Badgers are in the mix to land the two of them. However, the same report notes that the defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers are the front runners to land the brothers.

Joey and Sam have always been a pair of players that were likely to go to the same team no matter what.

With the Badgers having open scholarships and the likelihood that 5-star recruit Jalen Johnson won’t sign with the Badgers in 2020, this could be a great way to buffer that kind of loss.

Sam, the older of the two brothers, won’t be able to graduate in May, so he will have to sit out this upcoming season and have just one year of eligibility left.

He averaged 33.4 minutes per game and was one of the most reliable scorers for Marquette — averaging 14.9 points to go with 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Sam also shot an impressive 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.

Joey on the other hand, would have three years left after sitting out next season. He finished his freshman season averaging 9.7 points, 2.4 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game.

If the Badgers were to land the brothers, it would certainly be a help to the front court of this team. But, it would also ratchet up one of the most underrated rivalries in all of college basketball.

While the pieces would fit with the Badgers, would transferring to Wisconsin make much sense for the pair? It would be much more of a lateral move in the basketball sense, especially with Markus Howard coming back to the Golden Eagles in 2019-20.

Given the production on the court, it would make sense to make this move to a program up the ladder. About the only thing that could make this move happen for the Badgers would be a feeling that it would be the right course for them — especially if they wanted to still stay close to home.

Just don’t get your hopes up too high that the Badgers would win this transfer situation. There’s a reason they lost out on both in the first place.

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Is 2020 recruiting class make-or-break for Badgers & Gard?

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Wisconsin saw its streak of NCAA tournament appearances end in 2018. A year later and the Badgers finished 4th in the Big Ten and took a trip back to the NCAA tournament.

But, a first round defeat at the hands of Oregon has many wondering if the program is heading in the right direction now that the roster is full of players who Greg Gard has personally signed off on as the head coach.

One indicator of future success is getting top-of-the-board players in the fold. That has been a struggle for Gard since he took this program over and it’s fans biggest gripe — even more so than the lack of free throw shooting ability or the on-going offensive slumps that has plagued this team.

So, as the beginning of the spring AAU season kicks in to high gear, now is a good time to understand where the program sits and what could be happening over the next few months.

One thing is for sure, the next four months or so are going to go a long way towards determining if Gard can get this program to the consistent level that was seen just five years ago.

Wisconsin appears set on its 2019 recruiting class, as 6-7 Minnesota native Tyler Wahl will be the only incoming freshman.

After seeing point guard Tai Strickland leave the program this offseason, UW has three available scholarships. Will one of them be used in 2019 to attract a grad transfer? Even if that answer is yes, it won’t affect the 2020 recruiting class.

It just so happens that the class is loaded with talent and UW is waging a big time battle or two. Let’s break down the state of 2020 recruiting.

First, the Badgers have one scholarship spoken for as 3-star point guard Loren Bowman committed to the program a few months ago.

He offers UW a bit of length at the position as well as the ability to get more athletic. Bowman’s game is largely about penetrating the opposing defense and creating shots for others.

But, as nice as it is to have Bowman in place, Wisconsin has to restock its roster in a major way. So, let’s look at the targets still in play.

Top Target

Jalen Johnson

The Sun Prairie, Wis. native moved to Nicolet High School for this past season and has formed a super-team of sorts in the Milwaukee suburb. He also has seen his recruitment blow up over the past year.

Offers from all the blue bloods came in as they found out what Wisconsin knew from the very get-go with Johnson. Now he’s considered one of the nation’s best recruits — sitting at No. 3 in the country in the 247Sports composite rankings, as well as the No. 1 small forward and the No. 1 player in the state of Wisconsin.

The Badgers have literally done everything outside of backing up a truck of money (and that’s highly against the NCAA rules) outside of Johnson’s house.

Will the Badgers pull this one out? It’s hard to see him not going to Duke at this point, but if he doesn’t go there, look for the Badgers to be his choice.

Gard has been hard after him, he knows the program as well as any recruit in the country and he knows the program would build around him.

Getting his commitment would be a game-changing moment for Gard and for the program.

Plan A Guys

As much as getting Johnson in to the fold would be a game-changer, this group of players are Gard’s biggest bets in the 2020 recruiting class to date. They will form the backbone of what the Badgers do and don’t accomplish on the recruiting trail and should be how Gard’s recruiting is judged by in this class.

Ben Carlson

If Jalen Johnson doesn’t go to Wisconsin, the one player I would put at the very top of the wish list is Ben Carlson.

Wisconsin seems to agree, putting a ton of attention on him on the recruiting trail. The 6-9 4-star recruit out of Minnesota is the No. 71 ranked player in the country and a pairing of Tyler Wahl and Carlson could be a dynamic one in the front court for the Badgers.

But, this recruitment is far from a slam dunk for the Badgers. Getting Carlson to commit to Gard and this program would be a major win given an offer list that includes the likes of Michigan, Minnesota, Stanford and Xavier.

At some point, a priority recruit signing on the dotted line needs to happen. Will the Badgers be able to beat out the competition?

Johnny Davis

LaCrosse has been a recruiting hot bed in the state of Wisconsin for the better part of four or five years now. After nabbing Kobe King in the 2017 class, the next big name is Johnny Davis.

The 6-4 combo guard is someone the Badgers want, but has begun to see even more interest early on in the spring AAU season. UW has done all it can to attract him to the program, but he’s been playing out his recruitment pretty slow and that may make the Badgers move on other guards this spring or late summer to put some pressure on this recruitment.

Davis just received an offer from West Virginia and also holds five other offers. So, it will be interesting to see how long he plays his recruitment out.

As for his game? Davis has a lot of athleticism to his game and can attack the rim. UW really could use his style to help open up defenses going forward. There’s some work to be done on his shot from outside, but he isn’t bad beyond the arc.

Backup Plans:

Ethan Morton

With Jalen Johnson a highly unlikely get for the Badgers, they need an athletic small forward and Morton could represent that very thing.

Morton isn’t really a “backup plan” per say, because he’s the No. 43 player in the country and No. 1 player out of Pennsylvania. But, when you are after one of the top 5 players in the country, you can’t put a full-court press on anyone else.

What are Wisconsin’s chances of winning this recruitment? I wouldn’t count on it happening, but if Johnson makes a decision in the next few weeks or early on in the summer, UW could get themselves right back in the picture.

Seryee Lewis

If Ben Carlson ends up elsewhere, the Badgers have been waiting in the wings and watching 6-7 forward Seryee Lewis out of Chicago.

Right now the offer list is not super impressive, with a lot of mid-major offers and only Illinois and Wisconsin looking in to him as a potential offer at the Power 5 level.

Lewis progression this spring and summer is going to be a make-or-break as to if the Badgers are interested in extending an offer. But, personally, I like his game and what it could potentially add to the program.

His tape shows someone who works hard on the defensive end and has some athleticism on the other end of the court, where his AAU teammates see him living above the rim.

He’s going to need to continue to get stronger and work on his outside shot, but those are things that are already improving. We’ll see if he can impress enough to earn an offer this summer.

Gabe Madsen

Wisconsin has some scholarships to play around with in the 2020 class, but the Badgers have to find a backcourt player no matter what.

Madsen is a player the Badgers have watched a lot over the past year or so and could be in line for an offer should Johnny Davis not commit. That’s especially the case with Cashius McNeilly making a verbal pledge to Texas A&M on April 13.

He’s got offers from Marquette, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin-Green Bay so far and both Minnesota and Wisconsin are watching but have yet to offer.

Much like Lewis, Madsen has a lot of work to do on his game for the Badgers to offer but if it all comes together, Wisconsin could be a good position to get another steal out of the state of Minnesota.

It will be interesting to watch how this AAU season unfolds for Madsen and what it means for his potential offer by the Badgers. Personally, I think he’s worth the offer, but I would hesitate with his ability to create his own shot.

Other names to watch include Isaac Lindsey, Carter Gilmore, Even Bruns and Chris Conway. None of them have offers yet, but it is still early in the process and once the picture becomes clearer with the top targets, offers are likely to come to one or two of the names above.

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Ethan Happ named top center in the country

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We all knew that we were witnessing one of the most special players in Wisconsin Badgers history with Ethan Happ’s senior season.

But, on Friday night he was rewarded for that special season by winning the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award. It’s been given to the nation’s best center since 2015.

Happ is the second Badgers big man to win the award, following the very first award winner in Frank Kaminsky.

This season, Happ finished 8th in the country with 21 double-doubles on the year, which tied the school record held previously by Joe Franklin in the 1967-68 season.

He also finished this year averaging 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists. All three of those were career highs as well.

With 2,130 points, 1,217 rebounds and 423 assists, Happ is one of six players in NCAA history to accumulate at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 400 assists. He joins Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Danny Ferry, Stacey Augmon and John Konchar.

Previous winners of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award were Kaminsky (2015), Utah’s Jakob Poeltl (2016), Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski (2017) and Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado (2018).

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