A new era of Badgers’ basketball has arrived. Basketball returned to Madison on Sunday as the Badgers hosted their annual intra-squad Red and White Scrimmage. After losing Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown, and Bronson Koenig, the group on the floor had quite a different look than many of the Grateful Red are accustomed to. The Badgers will rely on almost an entirely new core as they try to capture their 20th consecutive NCAA tournament berth. The scrimmage provided plenty of examples of how Greg Gard and his squad could achieve that, while also raising some potential red flags that could act as thorns in the Badgers’ side. Here are three takeaways regarding Sunday at the Kohl Center:
1. There will be growing pains.
For the entire scrimmage, one thing was glaringly apparent: this team lacks experience. What else could you expect from a team returning one starter and losing four of its top five scorers? Whether it be unfamiliarity with the offense, ill-advised shots, or lack of situational awareness, we saw a little bit of it all on Sunday. However, this team still houses great potential. As the game progressed, several players became more comfortable under the lights and started making plays. The first quarter of the season could be baptism by fire for these young Badgers, but it ultimately will pay off when they hit the conference slate in the second half of the year.
2. These freshmen can play.
Two of Sundays’ standouts were freshmen guards Kobe King and Brad Davison. King dazzled by showcasing his complete offensive game and ability to score at all three levels: inside, midrange, and behind the arc. He led all players with 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point land. He clearly will be one of the first players off the bench, and will likely see minutes at both shooting guard and small forward. Davison, on the other hand, exhibited his tenacity and assertiveness on both sides of the ball. He finished with 10 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals, and looks to have the back-up point guard role locked down. He should see 18 to 20 minutes per game, and could turn into one of the more vocal leaders on this team despite being a freshman.
3. The presumed offensive leaders looked shaky.
Both Ethan Happ and D’Mitrik Trice struggled. Happ finished with zero points on 0-for-4 shooting, failing to put together anything against the double teams that came after him. He still contributed 6 assists and 5 rebounds, but during the regular season, the Badgers cannot expect to have any significant chance of winning if Happ is scoreless. With opponents now being able to zero in on Happ with last year’s supporting cast gone, it is imperative that he either step up his game scoring-wise to the next level or act as a facilitator on offense by providing opportunities to teammates. He is an All-American candidate, and the Badgers’ season will likely hinge largely on his individual success.
Trice is expected to be the Badgers’ second fiddle to Happ this year. This is asking a lot out of the sophomore, but it is necessary that Trice plays to his potential for the Badgers to compete. On Sunday, he shot 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from three while scoring five points and turning the ball over three times. That will not cut it against any conference foe, and likely will not against most non-conference opponents as well. Trice looked excellent during the Badgers’ trip to Australia, so I expect that this was just an off-day. If it does turn into a trend, however, it could ultimately spell trouble for Wisconsin.