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Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Preview: Biggest questions to answer

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The 2018-19 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball season is almost upon us. After an 82-70 exhibition win over Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Friday, the games will count for real starting with a visit by Coppin State on Tuesday, Nov. 6. 

That game will air on BTN Plus and be available via the Badgers radio network as well. 

As we inch closer to the season, many familiar faces will be back. Heck, UW returns just over 94 percent of its scoring from last season. 

Despite all that returning talent, the Badgers of 2017-18 were a team that broke a famous streak — missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years. 

So, what will be different in 2018-19? Wisconsin will start the season nearly 100 percent healthy. UW will have guards D’Mitrick Trice and Kobe King back and will only see sophomore forward Aleem Ford on the shelf to start the season (he is expected back during the season). 

After watching the exhibition game and knowing all that troubled the Badgers last season, let’s explore the biggest questions that face the Badgers heading in to the season opener. 

Where will the outside scoring come from? 

This has been an ongoing issue for the Badgers, one that doomed them time after time last year. Simply put, UW’s swing offense is predicated on getting an inside-out game going. 

It didn’t work last season and if the exhibition game was any indication there’s a lot of work to be done there heading in to 2018-19 as well. 

Wisconsin was just 4 of 16 from deep with Happ, Iverson, King and Trice each getting one deep ball to go down. Now, it was nice to see Happ extending his shooting range, but Davison, King and Trice all need to show they are more deadly than the combined 3 of 9 they shot in that game. 

If that trio can’t get going from beyond the arc, it could be trouble for the Badgers this year. The smart money says that a healthy Davison and King are a good combination to get going from deep, but we need to see it in action to be confident in it actually happening. 

How quickly will the backcourt rotation settle itself?

One thing was clear in the Badgers exhibition game — UW’s coaching staff has little idea what rotation makes the most sense. Of course, the exhibition game is time to experiment, but at one point the Badgers had four guards and Happ on the floor and had played six guards overall in the first 10 minutes of the game. 

It appears the likely group of starters will be D’Mitrick Trice and a healthy Brad Davison along with either Kobe King or Brevin Prtizl getting looks as a starter as well. 

But, could the Badgers take one of those spots away in hope of getting Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and Nathan Reuvers on the court together too? 

What about Prtizl’s defense and tenacity? There’s also Green Bay transfer Trevor Anderson and freshman Tai Strickland who looks to be a primary backup to Trice. 

How do you fit all of those pieces together to a cohesive unit in the backcourt? 

Will Happ have help on the inside? 

For most of the 207-18 season it was as Happ goes, so go the Badgers. There was very little help on the inside either, with a physically overmatched freshman in Nathan Reuvers thrown in to the mix because they had no one else they could trust up front. 

Reuvers responded by averaging a decent 5.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.9 blocks while playing an average of 16.6 minutes per game. 

Wisconsin hasn’t been able to trust either Charlie Thomas or Alex Illikanen and judging by the fact that neither showed up in the exhibition game until it was well in hand, that appears to be the case in 2018-19 as well. 

The good news is that Reuvers adds some outside shooting help when paired with Happ. If the two bigs can co-exist it could be a good thing for the Badgers in 2018-19. 

But, the Badgers front court needs to be more than a two-horse race. This is where senior Khalil Iverson comes in to play. His offensive inconsistency was a big hinderance last season and that needs to change, because his ability to slash and get to the rim is badly needed. That was on full display in the win over Oshkosh on Friday, as Iverson basically lived at the rim and poured in 13 points. He was just 6-12 shooting from the field, but that’s a bit misleading as a lot of “missed” shots came as he was crushed going to the basket. 

This threesome seems to be the Badgers only group of front court players that will see significant minutes in 2018-19, as recruits Taylor Currie and Joe Hedstrom will likely redshirt this year. 

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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Badgers Basketball

Badgers Basketball Preview: Xavier edition

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After a season-opening trouncing of Coppin State, the Wisconsin Badgers will take the court a week later. The competition will be much stiffer this time around. 

That’s because it’ll be the Gavitt Games and a road trip to Xavier on the docket. It’s also because these two teams had one heck of a matchup last year. 

Xavier came in as the No. 15 team in the nation and nearly were upset by a Badgers squad trying to find itself. The game ended with a Musketeers 80-70 victory, but it appeared to be a step in the right direction for a young Badgers squad. 

Even if that wasn’t what happened for the Badgers after that game, this is a bellwether matchup once again.  That’s because the roles will be reversed this season, as Wisconsin returns a ton of its production from last season and Xavier are the ones trying to figure themselves out. 

Tip is scheduled for 5:30pm CT and can be seen on FS1. 

Let’s look inside the matchup. 

Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 1-0 (0-0 B1G)
Head Coach: Greg Gard, 3rd full season at UW (58-36 overall, 31-23 B1G)
Notable: Last time out the Badgers got a triple double from center Ethan Happ. It was just the second one in program history. The Badgers also got a career high 21 points from D’Mitrick Trice in his return from a season-ending injury suffered 10 games in to last season.

Probable Starters (stats): 

G – D’Mitrick Trice – 21 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg
G – Brad Davison – 9 ppg, 5 rpg, 0 apg
F – Khalil Iverson – 7 ppg, 5rpg, 1 apg
F – Nate Reuvers – 8 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg
C – Ethan Happ – 10 ppg, 11 rpg, 12 apg

Xavier Musketeers 

Record: 2-0 (0-0 Big East)
Head Coach: Travis Steele, 1st year at Xavier and overall
Notable: Last time out, Xavier was a 6-point winner over Evansville, as they struggle with the transition away from Chris Mack and a group of solid seniors from last season’s team that beat the Badgers by 10 points. 

Probable Starters (stats): 

G – Paul Scruggs, So. — 14.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.5 apg
G – Kyle Castin, Sr. — 7.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 0.5 apg
F – Naji Marshall, So. — 9.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.5 apg
F – Tyrique Jones, Jr. — 18 ppg, 13 rpg, 1.5 apg
F – Ryan Welage, Sr. — 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg

Matchup to Watch: The Frontcourt

Xavier has been really good at eliminating opponents scoring up front. With an athletic group of players up front, opposing teams are having trouble scoring inside. 

Now, of course, teams are having a field day scoring from outside. How else do you describe a team that allows opponents to score 77 points per game so far this season? 

Teams are shooting just 40 percent from the field overall, but are 26 o 60 (.433) from beyond the arc. Wisconsin was on fire from outside for most of the contest against Coppin State, but can that outside shooting be trusted to be consistent? 

It’ll be a big help if Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson are lighting it up inside the paint again. Happ is easily the toughest opponent Xavier has seen on the inside and Xavier’s length and athleticism are trouble for Happ as well. 

Last season, Happ had 21 points, but was just 7 of 13 from the field and added seven points from the free throw line. If he can get Xavier in trouble on the foul front, it will be a huge help again. 

But, given the changes to the Xavier frontcourt group going in to this season, this is a matchup that will look a lot different. 

Prediction:

Wisconsin 70, Xavier 65

While this game is on the road and that can be a huge factor, what I saw from the inside-out game of the Badgers last time out is enough to make me believe this is a win for the good guys. 

Additionally, Xavier has seen its share of struggles early on this season and nearly lost to Evansville, a middling Missouri Valley squad at best. Look for the experience of the Badgers to matter and for them to win this one at the free throw line of all places. 

Season Prediction Record: 1-0

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Happ, Trice lead Badgers to easy win over Coppin State

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The return of redshirt sophomore D’Mitrick Trice was one to remember.

After missing all but 10 games last season, Trice poured in a career high 21 points in his return to the team, leading the Badgers to an 85-63 win over the Coppin State Eagles.

Trice got there thanks to 5 of 9 shooting from deep and 7-13 overall from the field. He had 17 of those 21 points in the first half alone, and UW needed those points. 

Three straight makes from deep for Trice with the Badgers trailing by five points gave the team the kick start they needed. It was the start of a 20-2 run that blew the game open from an 11-6 deficit to a large Badgers lead that never got close again.

However, he wasn’t the only headline of the night for the Badgers. 

Star senior center Ethan Happ showed just how versatile he can be with a season-opening triple double. He had 10 points on just 3-7 shooting, but hit all four of his free throws and added 11 rebounds and 12 assists on the night. 

No other Badgers player had more than one assist. 

Happ and Trice were joined in double digits scoring by senior guard Brevin Prtizl who had 16 points on 4 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc. 

As a team, the Badgers shot just 38.7 percent from deep on the night, but happened as the team cooled off late in the game as the bench got cleared out. UW shot 52.9 percent (9 of 17) from the three-point line in the first half alone.

Coppin State was led by a pair of double digit scores in Lamar Morgan (15) and Taqwain Drummond (11), but they were never really in the game after the first three minutes of action. 

Wisconsin’s other returning player from injury, redshirt freshman Kobe King, had a bit more of a struggle off the bench. He had 8 points on 3 of 6 shooting from the field, but missed on both of his deep attempts. he did add four rebounds, good for third on the team. 

Perhaps the biggest shock came from the free throw line, as Wisconsin shot an impressive 88.5 precent (23 of 26) on the night. 

Wisconsin also was able to get its big lead thanks to much better play on the defensive end of the floor. UW held Coppin State to just 35.6 percent shooting on the night and just 11 of 29 from beyond the arc. 

Up next for Wisconsin is next Tuesday as they go to Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Muskateers in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Tip is scheduled for 5:30pm CT and will air on FS1. 

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers Basketball Preview: Coppin State edition

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It’s here, Wisconsin Badgers basketball is back and looking to start a new era of NCAA tournament appearances. 

Up first is a matchup with the Coppin State Eagles, a team from one of the worst conferences in D1 basketball. Will it be a nice way to ease in to the season or will the visitors put the Badgers to the test in a contrast of styles? 

Let’s dig in to the matchup. 

Wisconsin Badgers

2017-18 Record: 15-18 (7-11 B1G)
Head Coach: Greg Gard, 3rd full season at UW (57-36 overall, 31-23 B1G)
Notable: Wisconsin will have 94.7 percent of its scoring from last season back and will see two young players return to the lineup after missing most of the 2017-18 season due to injury in guards D’Mitrick Trice and Kobe King. 

Probable Starters (2017-18 stats): 

G – D’Mitrick Trice – 9.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
G – Brad Davison – 12.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
F – Khalil Iverson – 8.6 ppg, 5.1rpg, 1.8 apg
F – Nate Reuvers – 5.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg
C – Ethan Happ – 17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.7 apg

Coppin State Eagles

2017-18 Record: 5-27 (5-11 MEAC)
Head Coach: Juan Dixon, 2nd season (5-27, 5-11 MEAC)
Notable: Guard Dejuan Clayton missed almost all of the 2017-18 season due to injury after being selected to the MEAC All-Rookie team in 2016-17. He averaged 12.4 points and 3.1 assists per game in his debut season and could be a huge X-factor for this team. 

Probable Starters (2017-18 stats): 

G – Dejuan Clayton (So.) – 12.4 ppg, 3.1 apg (2016-17 due to injury)
G – Lucian Brownlee (Sr.) – 4.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.5 apg
F – Cedric Council (Sr.) – 5.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg
F – Lamar Morgan (Sr.) – 12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.4 apg
F – Chad Andrews-Fulton – 6.5ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.8 apg

Matchup to Watch: Chad Andrews-Fulton vs. Ethan Happ

The Eagles didn’t win a lot of games last season, but when they did it had a lot to do with Chad Andrews-Fulton and his play. In the five wins the Eagles had he averaged 15 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. 

Ethan Happ is more than accustomed to battling high-level scorers down low and usually good at winning those battles. Happ has also been one of the most effective big men in college basketball for the past two years. Expect Happ to be able to frustrate Andrews-Fulton on defense and take him down low on the block. 

As long as Happ wins this battle in the first half this should be an easy win overall for Wisconsin. If not, the Badgers may make this closer than expected for far too long. 

Prediction: 

Wisconsin 84, Coppin State 55

This is your typical opener against a really bad mid-major program. Yes, Juan Dixon played at a high level at Maryland, but he hasn’t shown the ability to coach a team to success ever. That includes his lone stint as a women’s basketball coach in which his University of the District of Columbia team won just six games. 

Wisconsin has experience and athletic advantages it won’t have every game this season. Look for this to be an easy win for the Badgers and one in which they’ll get some rotational questions figured out. 

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Badgers get 12-point win over Oshkosh in exhibition play

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Friday night’s contest between the Wisconsin Badgers and UW-Oshkosh may have been just an exhibition game, but the Titans weren’t treating it as a tune up. 

Instead, the visiting D3 team gave the Badgers some trouble early on and played hard late to make it closer than the score appears in a 82-70 win for the Badgers.

So, what did this game tell us? Let’s go beyond the Boxscore for some analysis of this contest, like we will all season long in 2018-19. 

Trouble from deep

Wisconsin spent much of last season relying on Brad Davison to bail them out from deep. He finished the season shooting XX from the three-point line. UW as a team, they finished XX percent from the field, which was XX in the Big Ten. 

On Friday night it was cold as ice for the Badgers. They started the game 0 of 7 from deep and ended up shooting just. 

Credit the Titans for playing good team defense and forcing players like Khalil Iverson and Ethan Happ to take shots from beyond the arc. Of course, ideally, neither of them will be doing that come time for the real games, but as a team this was not a good sign of things to come. 

Should we worry about a slow start?

Exhibition games can be sleepy, but the Badgers really struggled to get going early on and they lead jut 20-16 with 8:24 to play in the first half. 

A 10-point run from there opened this game up big time and eventually the Badgers led by 19 points (47-28) at the half. 

Wisconsin had a really bad habit of getting off to slow starts last season (and really for much of the Bo Ryan era before Gard took things over). So, when you see the same thing happen early on it’s not good news. 

That’s especially the case since Gard decided to put six different guards in to the game early on and no one seemed to be able to find the spark (see the 1st note). 

We won’t overreact to an exhibition game, but this slow start is something that we will be putting in the back of our mind and watching to see if it becomes a trend in the regular season. 

Happ is Happ

Ethan Happ came back for his final season of college ball. Wisconsin is going to be grateful for that to say the least. Happ did what always does — stuff the stat sheet in almost every category. 

Here is his line for the game: 

It is good to see the senior is also trying to extend his game a bit beyond the interior but not doing so at the expense of everything that has made him a perennial All-Big Ten player.  

Backcourt rotation still in question

One of the main things I was watching for in this game is how the Badgers backcourt would play. To say anyone not named Brad Davison (16), D’Mitrick Trice (9) or Kobe King (9) stepped up would be an understatement. 

Senior Brevin Prtizl was quiet when he wasn’t getting in to it with Oshkosh players. Yes, he had 7 rebounds, but just 4 points and 1 assist in 24 minutes of action. 

Freshman point guard Tai Strickland was quiet on the stat sheet, but looked the part of a leader of a swing offense early on, while Green Bay transfer Trevor Anderson did nothing in his 14 minutes of play — recording 3 rebounds and an assist with not a single shot or attempt of any kind on the offensive end. 

If the Badgers are going to make a move up the Big Ten this season, they need options to step up beyond Davison, King and Trice. That was not on display in any way that gives you confidence. 

We’ll see if Prtizl ends up starting come the regular season opener against Coppin State on Tuesday night, but he looked like a player best off the bench with the three younger guards making it work around the perimeter. 

Gard certainly has a lot to sort out and it could be a few weeks in to the season before anything is for certain in the backcourt, especially if no one wants to take on a big time scoring role from outside. 

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