Where will the scoring come from on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team?
That’s a question every year at this time, but it’s a particularly interesting one this season. The Badgers open the 2017-18 campaign against South Carolina State on Friday night at the Kohl Center.
“I never get wound up in who’s going to be the scorer as long as our team is scoring,” UW coach Greg Gard said after his team finished exhibition play with an 85-56 victory over UW-Stout on Sunday. “It could change from game to game. I think this team has that type of versatility.”
That showed during UW’s trip to Australia and New Zealand in August, when the Badgers had a different leading scorer in each of their five exhibition games. None of them was junior center Ethan Happ, who is UW’s leading returning scorer at 14.0 points per game.
Predicting individual scoring averages for the Badgers is difficult. Don’t believe me? Just ask two former UW players I asked to help me with an exercise heading into the season.
“This is tough!!!” Zak Showalter wrote in a text.
“Yikes,” Ben Brust wrote in a Twitter message, “this is hard.”
When they had completed their homework assignments, both Brust and Showalter said they had fun doing it. But I’m pretty sure none of us felt all that confident about our picks.
Note: We only made predictions on the 10 players who likely will play the most. That group doesn’t include freshman forward Nate Reuvers, who as of Wednesday was mulling whether or not to redshirt this season.
Here are the picks, with some commentary below.
BEN BRUST'S PICKS
Ethan Happ 15.1
Kobe King 11.3
Brad Davison 9.2
D’Mitrik Trice 7.4
Khalil Iverson 6.8
Brevin Pritzl 6.1
Andy Van Vliet 5.8
Charlie Thomas 2.7
Alex Illikainen 2.2
Aleem Ford 1.6
ZAK SHOWALTER'S PICKS
Ethan Happ 14.8
Kobe King 11.7
D’Mitrik Trice 8.4
Khalil Iverson 7.7
Andy Van Vliet 7.2
Brad Davison 7.0
Brevin Pritzl 6.9
Charlie Thomas 3.1
Aleem Ford 1.7
Alex Illikainen 1.5
JIM POLZIN'S PICKS
Ethan Happ 15.5
D’Mitrik Trice 9.1
Kobe King 8.8
Andy Van Vliet 8.4
Brevin Pritzl 8.3
Khalil Iverson 8.0
Brad Davison 7.3
Charlie Thomas 3.6
Aleem Ford 2.9
Alex Illikainen 1.1
The one guy we all agree on is Happ. It was a no-brainer to have him leading the way, but his range (0.7 points) was the lowest among the 10 players.
Brust and Showalter are clearly high on King’s potential. So am I, but I had a difficult time predicting a double-digit scoring average from a true freshman even though King has routinely been among UW’s leading scorers. In eight exhibition games – counting the team’s trip to Australia and New Zealand and its closed scrimmage vs. Missouri – King averaged 10.4 points.
Besides Happ, every other player among the top seven in the rotation had a range of at least 1.7 points.
If you try this at home, one piece of advice: pick a starting point – a group total – and stick with it. I broke that rule. I originally picked 71 points per game as a starting point but kept bumping up individual totals and, in the end, it added up to 73. That seems high, especially when you consider Brust (68.2) and Showalter (70) had group totals that were significantly lower.
In case you’re wondering what Brust and Showalter are up to these days, here’s the lowdown:
Both are living in Madison. Brust recently moved back and is starting a job at ESPN Madison next week. He’s also the co-host of the Fundamentally Sound podcast – it’s good, check it out – and will be doing part-time studio work this season with the Big Ten Network.
Showalter landed a job with a bank in Madison and is training for the Ironman.
Many thanks to each of them for taking time out of their busy schedules to help me out with this.