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Takeaways from Wisconsin’s basketball 5-1 start

A roundtable with our B5Q writers ... and a special guest!

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oklahoma vs Wisconsin Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Through six games, the No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers hold a 5-1 record and have looked like a team on the rebound from a disappointing 2017-18 season. The team is ranked heading into a big week that features a home game against N.C. State—part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge—and then a road contest against those pesky Iowa Hawkeyes.

Ethan Happ has played like a bonafide All-American. Redshirt sophomore D’Mitrik Trice has returned from injury with a fire and has stayed mostly hot through the early part of the season. Nate Reuvers simply likes to throw block parties.

Our writers, along with a special guest, convene for what will be the first of our standard bi-weekly (hopefully?) roundtables regarding Greg Gard’s squad.

*Jim Ross voice* BAH G--- IT’S FORMER B5Q CONTRIBUTOR, WISCONSIN WALK-ON TRYOUT EXTRAORDINARE AND MY TALL ADULT SON CURT HOGG’s MUSIC! [note: Curt covers all prep sports (amazingly, I mind you) for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

We may have only a small six-game sample size into this year’s team, but what has really stood out to you as Wisconsin begins to prep for NC State and the ACC-Big Ten Challenge?

Drew Hamm: I know this may be shocking to you, but having a full complement of players has really helped the Badgers so far this season! I’m really enjoying D’Mitrik Trice’s three point shooting (57.1 percent !?!?!?!) and decision making (10.9 percent turnover rate). Having a veteran point guard is so important for the Badgers and I’m really excited to see how the offense flows once Trice and Brad Davison fully learn to play with each other.

*looks up*

Hey Curt! Welcome back!!

Owen Riese: I think the biggest takeaway I’ve gathered from this team is the replenished(?)/rebuilt depth the team features.

Last season multiple walk-ons were getting minutes out of necessity, and now the Badgers can really roll out eight to nine legitimate players. During the Virginia game the rotation was closer to six or seven, but that will continue to get sorted out as the season goes on.

Cyrt,,,,,, hello.

Tyler Hunt: As Drew eluded to, I am really a big fan of the depth this team has. I didn’t realize last year how much the loss of Trice and King really hurt them, until seeing this year’s team. Having guys you can go to when you WANT to instead of HAVE to is a big plus for Greg Gard and his coaching staff. The offense just flows so much better when you have experienced guys who can run it, and you can work in the younger less experienced guys when the time is right instead of throwing them into the fire.

I’ve also been impressed with the defensive effort the Badgers have put forth. Nate Reuvers having nine blocks in Atlantis was absurd, but amazing to watch. The defense just appears so much more well coached in 2018 versus 2017. They work as one cohesive unit and will only get better as the season goes on .

Curt Hogg: *snatches mic*

Wow, thanks for that touching video tribute, Jake. You know, the fans in this town have always been great to me; the best fans in the country. Coming back and having this jersey ceremon--

Uhh, what’s that?

Oh. Right. This is about the Badgers. Sorry about that, just got a little emotional.

To answer the question, BY GAWD IS THAT BO RYAN COACHING THIS TEAM? UW enters the week with a 13.7 turnover percent (11th in the country), 91.5 adjusted defensive efficiency (12th) and 25.4 defensive free throw rate (31st). They aren’t turning it over, they’re playing good defense and they’re not fouling. There are some serious flashes of vintage Wisconsin basketball with this team, even if their general refusal (31.3 3-point rate; 312th (!!) nationally) to shoot 3-pointers (which they are very good at!) is a bit confusing at times. Granted, a large part of the Badgers taking a lot of two-point attempts is that, well, their best player is Ethan Happ and you want him shooting it a bunch from around the rim.

Also, D’Mitrik Trice is shooting 36.8 percent on twos and 57.1 percent on threes, as Drew alluded to. Can we get these numbers in front of him?

After NC State on Tuesday, Wisconsin plays Iowa and Rutgers to start early Big Ten play. Through the first few games, has your perception of the conference changed at all and who could be contenders when all is said and done?

Drew: My perception of the conference has changed a bit. I still think Michigan State will win the Big Ten, but Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State, Maryland, Iowa and even Penn State and Minnesota are going to make it WAY more difficult than I thought for the Spartans to win. The B1G is going to be extremely fun to watch this year as there are no truly dominant squads but an entire semi-truck load of really good ones that will have to play each other every week! There is also Rutgers.

Owen: We flash back to the WWF Invasion 2001 Pay Per View, just prior to the Jeff Hardy versus Rob Van Dam match:

Matt Hardy: Hey man, just wanted to wish you luck out there. You need to end it early, because if you don’t, Van Dam can make it real ugly, real fast.

Jeff: That’s how I like it, man.

That’s my general thoughts on the Big Ten. Obviously it’s easier when UW wins every game, but the conference cannibalising itself due to the quality of a plethora of teams in the conference is part of what makes the season fun, part of what prepares teams for the NCAA tournament, and in general, to me, makes college basketball way more fun when teams bludgeon each other throughout the conference season.

I, for one, am extremely excited for the third place in the Big Ten Wisconsin Badgers with a record of like 21-11 (13-8).

Tyler: My perception has changed a little bit. I thought Michigan State and Michigan would be clear runaways with the rest of the pack battling for third. Michigan State looks like the favorite to me, but I feel like the field is not far behind. Michigan will have a good opportunity to prove itself with North Carolina and Purdue upcoming. After that, its a dogfight as to who can hang around and challenge them. I think Iowa is a dark horse, so the contest between Iowa-UW early in Big Ten play could be a good measuring point for how the Big Ten shakes out.

Curt: The Big Ten is surprisingly deeper than I anticipated. Now, I came into this season expecting it to be a fairly deep conference, but more in a bunch-of-super-average-teams-depth kind of sense. Michigan is playing defense, which is always scary. Michigan State isn’t far behind them. Nebraska is good, apparently. I watched Indiana run Marquette out of its gym. Ohio State is the top-ranked team in NCAA’s NET formula (which isn’t to say NET is actually good, but more so just to say that Ohio State is ranked at the top of a metric). Iowa has looked really good offensively. Maybe Northwestern and Maryland will be in the NCAA Tournament mix come March?

I still think it’s the two teams in the oven mitt state across the lake fighting at the top, but Wisconsin has the look of a team that will finish in the top four. (Yes, finishing in the top four still matters to me even though our beloved streak perished last season.)

How many double-doubles will Ethan Happ have this season?

Drew: How many games are left? That many plus the six he’s already had is my answer. The better question is how many more TRIPLE-doubles will Happ, aka RussTall Westbrook, have this year! For fun, let’s say he has one more!

Owen: More than the amount of games he doesn’t.

Tyler: I mean, its almost expected that he does it every time out. It’s the standard for Ethan at this point. The absurd thing is that he does it without ever leaving the paint. With positionless basketball and the three pointer taking over, its good to see an old school big man go to work.

Curt: I’m going to go ahead and set the over/under on this at 18.5, including postseason play. The Badgers have 25 regular season games left.

Who’s the one Badger you’re more intrigued by heading into December?

Drew: I’m intrigued to see what becomes of Brevin Pritzl this season. He scored as many points as you or I did in the Battle 4 Atlantis and only played 33 total minutes (he was also shut out against Xavier). His shooting could be an important weapon come conference play and with two games coming up against good teams (N.C. State and Iowa) it will be worth noting how much run Pritzl gets.

Owen: Kobe King braaaaaaa. King provides some scoring punch off of the bench that Wisconsin hasn’t had in a couple of seasons. He’s a bouncy player who can shoot it a little from the outside and in general make it tough for defenses to guard him.

Tyler: I’m intrigued to see what Brad Davison does in December. In the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, he struggled to get his points in the final two games, and even the first game when he put in 14 was a battle. Trice’s return has certainly taken some of the offensive pressure off Davison so his low totals haven’t hurt Wisconsin, but for a player as talented as Davison im interested to see what type of player he becomes. If he heats up as a consistent third scoring option, watch out for Wisconsin.

Also interested to see how Aleem Ford plays. I certainly did not expect him to be back yet, so I am intrigued as to where he gets worked in and how many minutes he gets with the 1-3 spots being deep already.

Curt: SMH Drew, coming out here and taking Pritzl before I even got a chance. He nearly had a pair of trillions with double-digit minutes in the Bahamas, which seems like an incredible finesse. Alas, I will move on to /checks notes/ uhhh, Trevor Anderson.

Anderson has been on the floor about one-fifth of the time for Wisconsin and done a very good Tim Jarmusz impression while on it. He’s scored a grand total of six points and taken just six shots in 86 minutes this year; while being in the Charles Thomas range of minutes, he’s the anti-Charles Thomas in his usage in those minutes.

If Anderson is going to consistently play between five-to-10 minutes a night, the Badgers might benefit from a little more offensive assertiveness from him. He hit 40 triples at a 35 percent clip as a freshman at Green Bay with a modest 49.6 effective field goal percentage. His usage with the Phoenix was low, too, so we’re probably looking at a guy who’s not hunting his shot in a way we’ve become accustomed to seeing with Badgers guards, but I’d like to see him #LetItFly.