The topic comes up almost every season at about this time, bringing with it a healthy dose of warranted skepticism from those outside the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program.
Here it is again: The Badgers might play at a faster pace this season. As eyes roll across Badger Nation, players insist this time it actually — possibly? maybe? — could be true.
As anecdotal evidence, they offer what they’ve been hearing from UW coach Greg Gard in practice throughout the offseason and preseason.
“It’s something that Coach always semi-preaches,” junior guard Brad Davison said, “but this year he’s fully in on it.”
“For sure,” junior forward Aleem Ford said. “As long as we always obey our defensive principles, I feel like with the group we have now and the skill sets we have now, I feel like there’s no reason not to push. Coach Gard has been preaching it to us.”
Perhaps a faster pace will be on display Friday night when UW (0-1) hosts Eastern Illinois (0-1) at the Kohl Center. Or perhaps it won’t.
Moore, a UW assistant coach, was injured in a car crash in May that claimed the life of his wife and daughter.
The Badgers pushed the ball at times during an exhibition victory over UW-La Crosse a week ago. But they finished a 65-63 loss to Saint Mary’s on Tuesday night with 69 possessions, which was a pretty standard count for an overtime game.
That game against the Gaels probably wasn’t the best measure of whether the Badgers’ tempo will increase this season. Saint Mary’s, like UW, is traditionally among the most methodical teams in the nation and does a good job controlling the tempo. The teams played at a snail’s pace in the second half Tuesday, each finishing with 26 possessions.
When asked about talk that UW might speed things up this season, assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft essentially labeled it a non-story.
“It’s no different than any other year,” he said. “If it’s there, we go. If it’s not, we don’t. If they take a bad shot or there’s a turnover, we’re going to make them pay. It’s no different than when I played here a decade ago. It’s no different from last year to this year. We may be more athletic in positions, more versatile, I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see.”
Whether it’s Gard or his predecessor, Bo Ryan, one of the misnomers is that the Badgers are discouraged from pushing the ball up the court. That’s not the case at all, but among the core principles of this program are taking care of the ball and looking for good shots and those won’t be sacrificed even if the Badgers choose to play faster.
Junior point guard D’Mitrik Trice said the coaches have been stressing to wings such as Ford and Kobe King to get up the court quickly and find a spot in one of the corners, the idea being to open up the court as much as possible.
“I think the coaches have harped on pushing the pace a little bit more and being smart with it, being opportunistic with when we push and when we don’t,” Trice said. “I think that once we get everybody on the same page with that in transition and things like that, I think we’ll see the pace start to pick up.”
The Badgers finished the first half against Saint Mary’s with 36 possessions, a high count for a program that hasn’t finished above 336th nationally in the 10 seasons Ken Pomeroy has been tracking average possession length.
But that possession count needs context: UW had nine turnovers and, too many times, forced up poor shots when it could have hunted for a better one later in the possession.
“It’s kind of walking a fine line between playing fast and playing smart,” UW assistant coach Dean Oliver said. “A lot of times teams get playing fast and end up playing too fast. We’ve got to catch ourselves when we we’re doing that, and we’ve got to be able to play fast without making mistakes. We’ve been working on those things, but when the lights come on you’ve got to be able to do it.”
Preview: Badgers vs. Eastern Illinois
UW VS. EASTERN ILLINOIS
What: 2019-20 home opener.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Kohl Center.
On the Web: BTN Plus.
Radio: 1310 AM and 101.5 FM, with Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas.
Coach: Greg Gard, 80-48 in his fifth season at UW.
Player to watch: Sophomore wing Kobe King (above) struggled in UW’s 65-63 overtime loss to No. 20 Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, finishing with a team-high four turnovers to go along with six points and four rebounds. King went 1 of 2 from the field and 4 of 7 from the line in 30 minutes.
PROBABLE UW STARTERS
|0||D'Mitrik Trice (above)||6-0||Jr.||10.0|
KEY BADGERS RESERVES
|12||Trevor Anderson (above)||6-2||Jr.|
YOU SHOULD KNOW
UW is 5-1 all-time vs. Eastern Illinois. The Badgers won the most recent meeting between the teams, an 81-47 decision on Nov. 25, 2003. … The Badgers’ bench only contributed two points against Saint Mary’s. Brevin Pritzl (above) didn’t attempt a shot in 22 minutes. … Four players had at least three turnovers in the opener. The Badgers finished with 14 turnovers in 69 possessions. … Nate Reuvers’ 22 points vs. the Gaels matched the career high he set last season at Illinois.
Coach: Jay Spoonhour, 93-125 in his eighth season at Eastern Illinois.
Player to watch: George Dixon (above left) posted a double-double — 13 points and 10 rebounds — in Eastern Illinois’ 85-60 loss at No. 13 Texas Tech on Tuesday night. Dixon played at Milwaukee Riverside before finishing his prep career at IMG Academy in Florida.
PROBABLE EASTERN ILLINOIS STARTERS
|4||Marvin Johnson (above)||6-6||Jr.||5.0|
KEY PANTHERS RESERVES
|32||JaQualis Matlock (above)||6-5||Sr.||3.0|
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Deang Deang (above), East, and Shareef Smith, Memorial, are former Madison high school products. Smith averaged a team-leading 3.8 assists per game last season for the Panthers. Deang, the 2015-16 State Journal All-Area Player of the Year, arrived at Eastern Illinois after spending three seasons at Highland Community College. He was high school teammates with UW junior Courtland Cuevas. … Josiah Wallace, who averaged a team-high 15.5 points per game last season, was held to two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the opener against Texas Tech.