The young, talent-laden Wisconsin Badgers took a trip down under to New Zealand and Australia, where they played five exhibition games against the New Zealand Breakers (twice), Hawthorn Magic, Melbourne United, and Sydney Kings, respectively.
The 2017-18 Wisconsin squad, which returns likely preseason All-American Ethan Happ as the lone starter from last season, went a very respectable 4-1 on the trip. Four out of five is impressive, but what was most important is how the team won those games, and who contributed.
In the team’s first game against the Breakers, sophomore sharp-shooter Brevin Pritzl led the way with a team-high 27 points, on a scorching 7/9 from long range, en route to an entertaining 85-75 victory.
In the second and final matchup against New Zealand, Pritzl’s old roommate and Belgian Bomber Andy Van Vliet paced the team with 14 points on 4/5 from deep, in a lopsided 87-53 win for Wisconsin. Van Vliet has been known to stretch the floor since his time with the Badgers, and started to show his skill in competition during the trip down under.
The team then traveled to Australia, where they took part in another tight contest, this one with the Hawthorn Magic in Melbourne. Several Badgers stepped up, but this matchup was the Kobe King show. King not only led the team in scoring, but also showed off his outside shot, athleticism, and even work ethic on the glass, consistently grabbing offensive rebounds over bigger and taller Magic players. Wisconsin won this one 75-68.
The Badgers lost their next game to Melbourne United, easily their toughest competition they faced, on a game-winning three with under three seconds left. King, Happ, and Van Vliet all scored in double figures, but starting point guard D’Mitrik Trice led the team with 18 points on 4/6 from three, where the team lost 90-89 in a heartbreaker.
Finally, Wisconsin ended the trip on a high note, defeating the Kings of Sydney 83-71. The Badgers trailed by five well into the third quarter of the contest, but freshmen Brad Davison and Nathan Reuvers stepped up in crunch time for the young team. Reuvers finished with an impressive 10 points and six boards, while Davison exploded for 23 points in the win.
Five different Badgers led the team in scoring each game, a great sign for a team with a lot of minutes and points to fill from last year’s experienced lineup. Overall, Trice led the team in scoring with 12.4 points per game, just above Happ who put up 12 per game.
One of the biggest items on the checklist for the trip was for the Badgers to really figure out the rotation heading into the fall, which they certainly did. If King doesn’t start, he showed that he is ready and at least deserves big minutes, as do his fellow freshmen Davison and Reuvers, as long as they continue to play physical when they’re out there, using respective size and strength to their advantage.
Meanwhile, the biggest question mark seems to be the starting power forward (four) position. Coach Greg Gard has always seemed to like Alex Illkainen, but Van Vliet showed improvement, while Charles Thomas and Aleem Ford can also execute certain facets better than other players, like defensive rebounding and being aggressive on the low block.
With Khalil Iverson likely starting at the 3, the 2 and 4 spots are the most interesting to follow with King’s emergence and Pritzl’s improved defense and great shooting, probably giving him the edge at the shooting guard position.
However it all plays out, the Badgers demonstrated their talented youth and depth Down Under, and for that, the trip was a success on the court.