MADISON — Coming into the 2016-17 Wisconsin basketball season, there was a lot of optimism surrounding Brevin Pritzl.
Pritzl was robbed of his freshman year by a foot injury, but the former four-star recruit was expected to make an impact at the beginning of the season. His pure shooting ability is rivaled only by Bronson Koenig and on some days D’Mitrik Trice, which made him an interesting piece from the time he committed to Wisconsin.
Way back on media day, Khalil Iverson served as Pritzl’s hype man.
“He is a threat to shoot it as soon as he crosses halfcourt,” Iverson told SST.
But then the season started, and Pritzl had a difficult time seeing the floor. Through the first 22 games of the season, Pritzl’s high in minutes came in a 23-point win over Ohio State, in which he played 13 minutes. Before that, he played 10 minutes in a 90-37 lopsided Badger victory over Florida A&M. Pritzl racked up 10 DNP’s over that portion of the season.
Pritzl finally made an impact in a key game against Indiana when he played 12 minutes and scored six points. He made a few hustle plays and went 4/4 from the free throw line, which ended up being critical as the Badgers won by a margin of five points (not to mention badly needed as the Badgers rank 12th in free throw shooting in the Big Ten at just over 66%).
The redshirt freshman finally had some momentum.
Pritzl then made his biggest contributions in the next game as the Cornhuskers took the Badgers to overtime. Pritzl played a career-high 23 minutes, and although he didn’t contribute much in scoring nor did he garner much of an impressive box score, he made important plays in the game that contributed to a close Badger win on the road. Pritzl did the little things to get the job done.
Without being a scoring threat, Pritzl was still able to affect the game which says a lot about his development to this point.
“Just hustle,” Pritzl said of his play in the Nebraska and Indiana games. “I’m just trying to contribute in any way possible. If my shot is not falling I need to be a good screener and help defender and continually work on those kind of components.”
Trice echoed Pritzl’s statement about Pritzl’s hustle.
“He’s really come into it recently,” Trice told SST. “His confidence level has been there and you can just see it by the hustle plays that he’s making whether it’s rebounding or knocking down shots, just making those hustle plays that you wouldn’t expect Brevin to make. He’s just really bought into that and he’s a team player.”
Pritzl’s offensive game goes beyond just shooting the ball. He moves well without the ball, and also the ball doesn’t stick in his hands when he possesses it. The ball moves, which is important when he shares the floor with players like Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes or Bronson Koenig, who have already solidified themselves as offensive threats. His ability to pass, cut and make good decisions ties into his offensive IQ that his teammates and coaches rave about.
“I don’t know what it is,” Pritzl said of his own basketball IQ. “Basketball is a simple game. You want to get open, you want to get shots up, and you want to get teammates open. It’s just a matter of if I see a lane and I got a good screen I should cut hard because it may not mean I’m open but a teammate could be open. Same goes for screening. I could get them open or I could get myself open. When it comes down to it, basketball is a simple game, you don’t want to overcomplicate it, just make the simple reads.”
This was evident in the Nebraska game when Pritzl made a key play. In overtime with the Badgers down two points, Pritzl assisted Showalter for a three that turned into a four-point play and a Wisconsin lead (fast forward to 1:32 in the video).
That play, characterized as a winning play, earned praise from the coaching staff.
“He won’t get credit for it and no one has probably mentioned it, but he led to the three that Showalter got fouled on,” Badgers associate head coach Lamont Paris told SST. “One, he made a good cut once the ball was in the post to get to an open spot which drew someone else’s help, Showalter’s help, and he snapped it immediately. The ball was in his hands for milliseconds. He kicked it to the corner to Showy for an open three. The guy challenged it and fouled him which means he would’ve been close enough if it wasn’t a bang-bang instantaneous pass if there was any hesitation, then the shot doesn’t get made.”
Pritzl was again a key component in the big Wisconsin victory over Maryland on Sunday, stopping the two-game losing streak. Pritzl provided a major spark in addition to his seven points and seven rebounds, both career highs.
He even had one of the highlight plays of the game in the form of an and-one dunk, not common for the guy known for his marksmanship from beyond the three-point line. Although most people notice the nice finish, watch what happens before the slam.
Happ receives the ball in the post. As he surveys the defense, Pritzl’s man turns his head paying attention to Happ, and Pritzl notices this and cuts to the hoop. Happ makes a nice pass and the rest is history.
Pritzl is making improvements and he’s getting more opportunities because of it, but in between his stellar Nebraska and Maryland games, he played only a six combined minutes in the losses to Northwestern and Michigan. Pritzl says gaining coach Greg Gard’s trust is something he has to continually keep doing.
So far, Pritzl has only hit three three-pointers this year. That has to be the next step in development for Pritzl’s in-game contribution.
“Brevin, when he gets going, is a handful,” Iverson said of Pritzl’s shooting ability. “The other day in practice…when coach Gard brought him over (from the scout team), he hit five or six threes… I think it will give him even more confidence, and that’ll help us in the long run.”
Even Nigel Hayes weighed in on his ability from beyond the arc last week.
There’s a lot to be excited about with Pritzl although he’s just getting started. Just imagine the excitement when he actually starts hitting shots.