The 2018-2019 men’s basketball season began in earnest Sunday at the Kohl Center as the Badgers took part in the annual Red and White scrimmage. Split into two different squads, the group played three ten-minute sessions before offering autographs to those in attendance. Here are four takeaways from the first glimpse at this year’s team:
Davison remains emotional leader
After spending the entire 2017-2018 campaign dealing with injuries, sophomore guard Brad Davison finally appears healthy.
He paced the White squad with 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-4 from three-point range. He also added two points and two assists.
“He’s more of a complete player when he can use both hands,” head coach Greg Gard said. “That helps when you can go to your left.”
Despite dislocating his shoulder several times, Davison became a leader for the Badgers last year, playing at both guard positions. He finished second on the team with 12.1 points per game and increasingly asserted himself as the year wore on, becoming an emotional leader along the way.
The heart and hustle showed throughout last year was apparent Sunday, even in an ostensibly meaningless scrimmage. Davison was vocal — encouraging and criticizing his teammates, throughout the scrimmage — as he led the White team to a dominant performance in the first period. At one point in that session, he flew into the baseline to save a loose ball, accidentally spiking the ball into a cheerleader in an attempt to save his team’s possession.
“The thing about Brad is he competes and he finds a way to have his team win, so he’ll be on the floor,” Gard said. “He’ll be on the floor, whatever I ask him to do. If I ask him to play the five [center], he’ll do it.”
Strickland shows most potential among newcomers
True freshman guard Tai Strickland played aggressively, seeking to create opportunities by driving to the basket. The Florida native finished with only three points, but acted as a facilitator in each of the three periods. He could play a role in the offense moving forward, providing a unique ability to beat teams off the dribble.
The other newcomers to the team contributed less. Freshman guard Carter Higginbottom showed off his athleticism and aggressiveness, finishing a pretty layup at one point and dunking during warmups. Big men Taylor Currie and Joe Hedstrom combined for just two points.
It remains to be seen which freshmen will sit out this year — the coaches will have to take into account strength and conditioning progress and injuries to other players before making their decision. Transfer center Owen Hamilton, a seven-foot-tall transfer from Northern Illinois, will already be sitting out this year, pursuant to NCAA regulations.
“They work hard,” junior guard Brevin Pritzl said of the freshmen group. “They don’t bum around, they make sure they’re giving their effort every possession, you can see it out here.”
It appears for now that Strickland is mostly likely to make an immediate impact on this team among the freshmen. Climbing up the depth chart may prove difficult, given the Badgers’ depth at guard, yet his skills may make him an indispensable asset.
Reuvers primed for a breakout year
Standing in front of the media with a bloody mouth, sophomore forward Nate Reuvers talked about his improved strength and toughness from last season.
“This year if I caught behind a guy I can at least hold my ground. As opposed to last year [if I’m] behind a guy, it’s probably a basket,” Reuvers said.
Reuvers added 25 pounds to his 6-foot-11 frame in the offseason and is now better equipped to handle the physicality of Big Ten basketball. He posted six points and two rebounds Sunday night, showing his muscle inside to contribute on both ends of the court.
His plus-minus on the night (+6) was the third-highest on the team, and he looked the part of a potential starter. Wisconsin has lacked an effective big man opposite of senior forward Ethan Happ the past few years, but it’s possible a bulkier Reuvers could provide the inside help the Badgers need.
Three-point shooting could be a problem area
The Badgers attempted 33 three-pointers Sunday night, and it’s clear that outside shooting will still be a large part of team’s identity. What’s less clear is if the squad actually has the personnel to carry out this plan.
The red and white teams combined to make less than 25 percent of their three-point attempts on Sunday.. Although Ethan Happ and Aleem Ford combined to miss 10 attempts from deep (four from Happ, six from Ford), only three players converted multiple three-pointers in the scrimmage: sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice (2-for-6), Pritzl, (2-for-3) and Davison (2-for-4), suggesting reliable shooting could be an issue for the team.
Still, Greg Gard wasn’t too worried about the performance and said his team needed to settle for fewer jump shots and create more shots inside.
“We’re shooting well, we’re shooting well… The red group shot too many early, too many jump shots,” Gard said.
“That first quarter you could tell the team that won [white] was the team that played inside out, touched the paint. There was a reason there shots were going in.”
Just three of last season’s main contributors (Ford, Davison, Pritzl) shot at least 35 percent from deep in 2017-18. That may have to change if the Badgers want to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2019.