Stanford will kick off their Battle 4 Atlantis slate today at 11 AM PT against the 25th ranked Wisconsin. The Badgers enter the matchup 3-0, including a big win over Xavier. They are led by All-American Ethan Happ, but have had great play from a number of players so far this year. To get to know them a bit better I spoke with Jake Kocorowski, who writes for Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
Your team appears to be a lot better than last year’s. Why’s that?
Two key injuries to Trice and King really hampered Wisconsin last season. Both played 10 games before their respective season-ending injuries, and it forced Davison to work over to the point. Davison really is a better off guard, and he was also working through a recurring shoulder injury. Last year’s team also dealt with losing four key seniors in Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown.
This year, the team returned 94.9 percent of its scoring, and there is a season’s worth of maturity for those coming back. Plus, Trice, King and Davison are all healthy. As my colleague Jim Polzin also wrote, the team has also grown closer, and it has showed early on.
The Xavier game was a big win for you, but three players combined for all but six points. Do you think that was an aberration?
I think the combination of Ethan Happ, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison scoring 71 of the 77 points was an aberration, but definitely feel they will be among the top scorers this season. Wisconsin has another two guards, Brevin Pritzl and Kobe King, who have the ability to score when called upon. Pritzl did not shoot well from deep at Xavier (0 of 5) but is shooting 6-of-9 behind three-point range the other two games. King has the ability to be a three-level scorer and is back from a broken patella injury suffered last season. There are also forwards Nate Reuvers and Khalil Iverson, who can complement in the scoring department.
Ethan Happ is obviously an elite talent. What has been effective at slowing him down in the past?
Really, just working to double and triple-team Happ to make the other players around him beat you. Coppin State I thought played Happ extremely well in not allowing him to really gash them offensively. He did record a triple double (10 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) in that season opener, but credit the Eagles for containing him from making the shots he made against Xavier and Houston Baptist.
That and well, getting him to the free throw line. Right now, he has made only five of 11 free throws this season--converting only one of his last seven in the past two games.
What do you see as the X factor for Wisconsin?
I think it may be the shooting of Pritzl right now, along whenever King takes over. Pritzl came into Wisconsin with the reputation as a sharp shooter from deep, and you have seen during particular games that he can get hot quick. Then, like against Xavier, he may go cold. I think this year could be a big season for the guard, who is currently coming off the bench but averaging 11 points per game.
With King, I feel he could have the most NBA potential out of the squad. He has flashed some early on, but if he can convert his flashes into more consistent big plays, that could weight heavily into Wisconsin contending for a Big Ten title.