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Five preseason observations entering the Wisconsin basketball season

Thoughts on the Badgers’ promise and potential problem areas entering 2016-17.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Wisconsin vs Notre Dame Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For about a month, the Wisconsin Badgers have been in head coach Greg Gard’s classroom to prep for the regular season. As the preseason practice slate comes to an end, the first test is Friday night against Central Arkansas at the Kohl Center.

A fair number of those practices have been open to the media in some quantity of time. While the sample size is not complete, those windows allow enough time to glean some observations about the team.

There is no shortage of storylines for this Badgers team. Will Ethan Happ develop a jumper? How deep into the bench will Gard go? How efficient will Nigel Hayes be offensively? Do any of the freshmen see the floor?

Take in your Badgers hoops wheaties with these five observations from the team’s practices:

The Badgers could, and likely will, utilize up to 11 players... and possibly more

Wisconsin returns all five starters from last season, as well as its top five bench contributors. Add to the recipe Andy Van Vliet and Brevin Pritzl, and you’ve got plenty of guys in the mix. Here’s the completely unofficial, but expected breakdown:

  • Starters: Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown
  • Primary bench unit: Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, Alex Illikainen, Charlie Thomas
  • Secondary bench unit: Brevin Pritzl, Andy Van Vliet, (Aaron Moesch??)

This doesn’t even include the possibility of freshman point guard D’Mitrik Trice, who we’ll get to later, getting regular minutes. College teams rarely go this deep (2014-15 Kentucky regularly played 10 men), so how will Gard play his chips? Certainly, the top two units will get used significantly, but Pritzl and Van Vliet are also more than viable options with specific skill sets. Van Vliet did get more run with the first unit than Pritzl, though.

Khalil Iverson can become a versatile weapon

Iverson can guard multiple positions on the court, and do so well. He’s definitely the most athletic player on the team and is an important asset to an already-sound defensive team. The keys for Iverson to maximize his value and efficiency will be to limit turnovers on the offensive end (28.7 turnover percentage last season) and fouls or unnecessary mistakes on the defensive end.

Don’t be at all surprised if Iverson gets the most minutes off the bench.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Wisconsin v Notre Dame Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Bronson Koenig is more explosive

This piece (great, per usual) from Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal puts to words what Koenig’s game displayed on the floor: the senior point guard is not quite the same player he was last season when he was third-team All-Big Ten. That’s not to say you can expect Koenig to be the Big Ten Player of the Year (especially on a team with Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ), but he is much quicker and explosive. He worked out with Corey Calliet in Los Angeles, the trainer for Michael B. Jordan in Creed. Koenig often relied too much on his jump shot—albeit a good one—but expect to see him make things happen on drives and slashes this season.

D’Mitrik Trice will become a favorite of yours

Trice is a 6’0, 178-pound freshman who has the appearance of a true floor general. A former standout at quarterback, Trice translates that to the basketball court. He has nice touch on his jump shot, displays a nice ability to take his defender off the dribble and stop on a dime before hitting a fadeaway, and shows some defensive ability for a freshman. If the Badgers didn’t have Jordan Hill as their backup point guard, they could feel comfortable with Trice in that spot. It would make sense, though, that the Badgers would possibly rather redshirt Trice this season and use him in a bigger role next season when Koenig graduates.

Ethan Happ’s shot has developed, but isn’t fully there

Happ worked with Vitto Brown this summer, working on the redshirt sophomore’s jumper while Brown gained some paint-work knowledge from his counterpart. Happ is certainly a larger threat than last season to step out and shoot the ball, but time will tell whether or not that shot is game-ready. In an offense predicated largely on getting the best shot, would a 25-to-30 percent three-point percentage from Happ be worthwhile for the Badgers? There have been times where he’s knocking down threes, and also times where the shot looks off.