After a tournament run to the Sweet Sixteen in which the Badgers were less than a minute away from advancing to the Elite Eight, Badgers nation has high hopes for this year’s hoops squad. The Badgers return all of their contributing pieces, with seniors Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter leading the way. The excitement for the new season was palpable on Sunday in the Kohl Center, with over 7,000 of the Grateful Red present for the first look at the 2016-2017 Badgers. The Red team was led by Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter, while the White team was guided by the dynamic duo of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. The Red team defeated the White team 48-46, with Happ sinking a pair of free throws with 7.4 seconds left to put Red ahead for good. To view the full game box score and teams, you can use this link. Here are some highlights and takeaways from the 2016 Red and White Scrimmage:
A new and improved Bronson Koenig
Senior point guard Bronson Koenig was far and away the most impressive player on the court. After reportedly dedicating himself this offseason to getting in better shape and working on a lifestyle that translates to greater success on the court, it looks like the changes he has made are working thus far. Koenig showed improved lateral quickness and court awareness, and his jump shot looked better than ever, as he made back-to-back deep threes in the first half. He blew by defenders on several occasions, the most impressive coming late in the first half. After crossing over his defender at the top of the key, Koenig drove into the lane and delivered a perfect no-look pass to sophomore forward Alex Illikainen for the easy layup, making the Kohl Center react with “ooooh’s” and “ahhhh’s”. Koenig also made several jump shots off the dribble on hesitation moves, which are his go-to. In all, Koenig made it look effortless on Sunday, with 16 points, five assists, and one steal. Hopefully this play carries over into the regular season.
The tall kid from Belgium
Badgers fans got a look at 7’ sophomore forward Andy Van Vliet, who has drawn hopeful comparisons to Frank Kaminsky from many due to his height and noted outside shooting touch. However, on Sunday, it was apparent that Van Vliet is far from being Kaminsky. The comparison is unfair, as Kaminsky was a National Player of the Year, while Van Vliet has yet to play a minute of college basketball. Van Vliet scored seven points with eight rebounds in 29 minutes, banking in two three pointers to start the game off. He is unpolished offensively and his in-game shot does not look as good as one would hope, but he did show good defensive skills. He did a good job at guarding sophomore forward Ethan Happ in the post, which is not an easy task given Happ’s arsenal of post moves. With a logjam of talent in the frontcourt, it will be interesting to see how much he is used this year, but expect him to see minutes off the bench often during the early games of the nonconference schedule to get him fully acclimated to college basketball. Today was only a glimpse at Van Vliet, so the narrative could be much different, for better or worse, once we’ve seen more of him in the regular season.
Paging Nigel Hayes? Nigel? You back?
After struggling immensely to find his shot down the stretch last year and into the NCAA tournament, I personally was excited to see how Nigel Hayes was looking this year. In warmups, I was blown away by Nigel’s shot, as he was making three point shots with consistency from all over the floor, some being a good five feet behind the line. This success did not translate to the scrimmage, as he shot 2-8 from the field, and 1-5 from three-point range. Hayes did operate more in the post than usual however, which I personally think is a good idea going forward. Hayes normally draws a lot of attention with the ball, so by utilizing him in the post, the Badgers can open up more outside shooting opportunities for guys like Koenig, Brown, and Showalter. Hayes has big shoes to fill with being touted as the preseason Big-Ten Player of the Year, but I think he has what it takes to live up to that billing. There will be ups and downs as always, but 2016-2017 will be a good year for the Badgers as long as he is playing his best basketball come March.
Other Observations and Takeaways
After signing late with the Badgers last spring, many fans overlooked freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice and wrote him off as being a signing to fill a roster spot. However, Trice showed on Sunday that he is a promising young player, and while he may not get many opportunities to contribute this year, he certainly will be a part of the Badgers plans for the next four years. He clearly outplayed redshirt freshman guard Brevin Pritzl, who was a top-100 recruit in the class of 2015. Trice showcased good shooting ability and court awareness, did an excellent job at not forcing anything, and played within his skill set. While bench players such as senior guard Jordan Hill, sophomore guard/forward Khalil Iverson, and Pritzl may prevent him from getting much court time this year, Trice is certainly one to watch in the coming years.
The Badgers post players looked very good. Vitto Brown looked much more assertive with the ball, driving to the basket from the wing and showing solid post moves. He went 2-4 from three-point range. Ethan Happ recorded a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Happ is the Badgers most advanced post presence and is an irreplaceable player. He reportedly has worked on his shooting touch this off-season, and it will be exciting to see which areas of his game he has improved most come the regular season.
It will be interesting to see who Greg Gard decides to redshirt this season, if anyone. Sophomore forward Charles Thomas is one possibility, as with Illikainen, Van Vliet, and freshman Aleem Ford, minutes off the bench will be scarce for the forward position. It is likely one of Ford and Thomas will be redshirted, as starting forwards Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Vitto Brown all will feasibly record 30+ minutes each per game. Gard seems to be fairly confident in Van Vliet given that he started in Sunday’s scrimmage, and Illikainen is more versatile and skilled than both Ford and Thomas. Khalil Iverson could also play forward minutes, and he is almost certain to be on the active roster this season. Aaron Moesch was utilized as forward at times last year as well. There is a clear logjam at the forward position, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.