1. Bronson Koenig does nearly everything, most of it very well
Koenig's strengths are evident in his stat line. After being named a starter last season went Traevon Jackson went down in January, Koenig shot 44.2 percent from three-point range. Over the course of the season, he turned the ball over just 26 times in 835 minutes (one every 32.1 minutes). Those numbers are the byproducts of the little things in his game.
A high percentage of Koenig's three-point looks come off assists from teammates. He spaces the floor well off the ball and moves into a position to get a good look off of a pass from out of the post. His form is consistent, as well as his release. If a defender's not giving him the proper attention to his shot (hand-down, man-down), Koenig isn't hesitant to fire away.
Koenig has excellent court vision and his need to always be on alert for a bounce pass he might zip their way. His passes are smart and he walks a delicate balance of threading the needle without forcing the ball.
Other observations: Through four weeks of practice, I may be able to count the number of free throws I saw Koenig miss on one hand. He made 81.2 percent of free throws last season, but I'd expect that to climb up this year. He fights hard through screens on defense, but needs to watch for grabbing onto cutting player. It's a quick way to pick up ticky-tack fouls.
2. Jordan Hill can create his own shot
The redshirt sophomore is in the running for backup point guard to Koenig. While he's not nearly a finished product (Ryan mentioned he wants to see Hill put on some more muscle), Hill is a scrappy defender and can create his own shot off the dribble.
He has decent range from outside, but showed an ability to make something happen either by himself or off a ball screen in late-shot clock situations.
3. Zak Showalter is at his best when...
...he's attacking the rim, drawing fouls, crashing the offensive glass and grinding away on the defensive end. Showalter has a little Josh Gasser to his game. He can knock down threes--though not at a Gasser-like level--and is arguably the Badgers best perimeter defender.
Showalter's biggest offensive contributions in practice came from making things happen with strong cuts to the rim. He has the athleticism to knife around the frame to muscle through defenders and get to the rim.
The Badgers have also shown confidence in his shooting. He spaces the floor well and is a decent catch-and-shoot guy.
4. Alex Illikainen just pump-faked again
Often battling against Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, Illikainen showed some deftness for either finishing or drawing fouls in the post. A key to that was a crafty use of the pump fake, a move that Ryan lauds in practices.
"If you see a defender closing out and he's pretty far away, chances are he's going to leave his feet," Illikainen told me. "So the pump fake will get you some separation or draw the foul."
Illikainen worked his way into a possible front court role off the bench behind Hayes, Happ, Vitto Brown and Charlie Thomas. If Andy Van Vliet is declared ineligible by the NCAA, Illikainen will be needed to fill in some minutes.
5. New season, new form for Nigel Hayes
All the talk around the junior Hayes last off-season was the supposed addition of a three-point shot. He delivered, shooting 39.6 percent on 40-for-101 shooting. That hasn't gone anywhere, but Hayes has been working with a different form on his shot.
"The better mechanics you have on your shot, the higher chance it has of going in," Hayes said. "The great Reggie Miller once said it’s not really about the form, how you shoot, it’s just whether you keep it consistent and make it. Last year I was able to make it, but I think it will be better if you have a better tool, better hammer to be able to hit the nail better."
Take notice of it as the season tips off.
6. Extended range for Vitto "Wet as Water" Brown
Okay, okay, I'll hold off on the nickname for now. The junior forward, however, showed off his improved range throughout the month of practice, particularly when popping out after setting a ball screen.
Brown's form looks more consistent and less rushed than a season ago. Him being able to hit the elbow jumper with regularity, and even extend that out to the three point line would be a boost for the offense.
With Koenig at the point, help defenders will likely want to commit a little extra to keep him from exploding to the rim, which could leave Brown with extra looks at the jumper. He doesn't have a career three pointer, but hit plenty during practice scrimmages and made one during the exhibition game last week.
7. Two comments on Ethan Happ...
The ascension and development of the redshirt freshman has been well chronicled through post-practice tweets and reports. I'll make just two comments about things that stand out to me.
First, Happ's passing out of the post is strong. He has a good feel for when the double team comes, stays strong with the ball, doesn't rush and looks cross-court for the open shooter.
Second, he finished down low from weird angles and with either hand. His post moves are, as Illikainen called them, "kind of funky". Happ finishes from all different types of looks, and that unpredictability helps make his post game what it is.
With his size, wide array of moves and finishing ability, Happ is ready to be a major contributor offensively.
8. Charlie Thomas is game-ready
As a freshman, Thomas is already built like a tank. At 253 pounds, he can size up with the other big Division-I bodies despite being only 6'8".
The Badgers showed they wanted to run a good amount of pick-and-rolls through him. He has a nice touch from 14-18 feet and is working to extend that. In the post, he has a couple of strong moves and then some decent ones.
His frame helps him in rebounding over seven-footers. Especially if Van Vliet is ineligible, Thomas will have to play the five, but his game is still suited for that role in college. Both he and freshman guard Khalil Iverson have been the first two off the bench for Ryan in practice.
9. Khalil Iverson's athleticism stands out
Watch the true freshman for five minutes and this is simply an undeniable observation. Sure, he can jump out of the gym, but displays his athleticism in plenty of other facets.
Iverson can play the one, two or three for the Badgers. He is a strong off-ball cutter and is able to get to the free throw line. Like Illikainen, he has a knack for when to use the pump fake. Even at 6'5", he can finish down low. That's probably where most of his points off field goals will come from.
Ryan won't play a freshman if he's not ready defensively, and it's clear that Iverson can hold his own on defense. He reads passing lanes well and his athleticism allows him to match up on opposing players at multiple positions.
10. Once Brevin Pritzl fully recovers...
...he's going to add another dimension to the Badgers offense.
The freshman had surgery on his foot in early August and returned to practice one week ago and played in Wisconsin's "secret scrimmage" against Northern Iowa last weekend. While still not 100 percent, Pritzl's impact was felt.
Make no mistake about it, Pritzl is a shooter. He knocked down a few threes, including one in transition. His form stays consistent and he's hit over 20 out of 25 during shooting drills.
Pritz'ls shooting doesn't have any catching up to do. Where he has make up for lost time, he says, is with conditioning and lateral agility on his foot. Currently, Pritzl has been working with the scout team. However, once he is fully caught up in terms of conditioning, Ryan said, Pritzl will be over with the first team.
Bold prediction of the post: Pritzl breaks Ben Brust's all-time school record of 235 three-pointers before his time in Madison is done.