Wisconsin basketball head coach Greg Gard took the stand Friday at Media Day to answer questions about the future of the young Badgers. As he responded to the media, you could sense a high level of confidence in his inexperienced team. The manner in which Gard talked about this group gives hope for the future. A lot has changed over the course of the year, including the departure of four starters, but the Badgers could surprise the Big Ten this year. Here are five takeaways from Media Day:
- Early games will test young team.
For a team that’s already taken huge blows to the roster, the schedule shows no mercy—within the first two months, the Badgers play Xavier, Baylor, possibly Creighton/UCLA, Virginia, two conference games at Ohio State and Penn State and Marquette. These are all games that have the potential to be losses for the Badgers, and Greg Gard knows it, saying “It’s pretty daunting with the amount of games and the teams we play.” Gard will have to have the troops in line and Wisconsin will have to be ready to go Day One.
- Happ is ready for leadership role.
The lone remaining starter from last year’s Badger team is Ethan Happ, who should stoutly challenge MSU center Miles Bridges for Big Ten Player of the Year. But before that, Happ must become a leader of this team. Gard believes he is ready. “The one thing that jumps out is the leadership standpoint.” Happ is the center of this team (both literally and figuratively), but when the chips are on the table, can he step up as a leader vocally and physically? Signs point to yes.
- Overseas play pivotal for freshmen development.
The Badgers took their talents out-of-country this summer, playing five games in both New Zealand and Australia—winning four out of five, with the lone loss coming by one point. And according to Gard, this trip put the Badgers ahead of the learning curve, especially for the younger players on the team. Freshman Nate Reuvers has developed in the low post and hopes to get reps alongside Ethan Happ. Kobe King told the Badger media that he’s “just excited to get going”. And Brad Davidson earned high praise from Gard himself, saying that he’s “not an average freshman.”
- It’s Pritzl time.
Eight months ago, Nigel Hayes was asked if anyone could beat Bronson Koenig in a three-point contest, and Hayes responded with “Brevin Pritzl is the best shooter in the country.” This garnered criticism and mockery around the country, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Pritzl will be a starter this season, and should be ready to take full advantage of increased minutes. In the Badgers’ first game in New Zealand, Pritzl was 7-of-9 from 3 with 28 points. “This is [Pritzl’s] time,” Gard said. Bring it to the Kohl Center Brevin.
- Never underestimate the Badgers.
Many experts currently have the Badgers in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, and understandably so—few teams could lose as much as the Badgers have and still be a competitive basketball team. Yet they’ve done it for nearly two decades. It won’t be easy, but the belief in this team is there. The fans stand firmly behind them. Now it comes down to the games on the court. Gard said this team “wants to play in March.”