MADISON - Without junior forward Sam Dekker because of an ankle injury, senior Duje Dukan because of an eligibility issue and sophomore Jordan Hill as he mulls a redshirt, Wisconsin improved to 54-4 in exhibition games with a 77-40 victory over UW-Parkside Wednesday night.
BadgerNation gives its impressions of No.3 Wisconsin, which opens the season No.14 against Northern Kentucky.
Wisconsin played nine games by the third media timeout and rotated early and often, so it’s not surprising the Badgers didn’t have much of a rhythm early on. It’s also hard when one of the best players in college basketball – Dekker – is in street clothes.
Even so, Wisconsin distributed the ball effectively (15 assists), shot 47.5 percent from the floor and put four players in double figures, something the Badgers did 23 times a season ago. More importantly, the Badgers spaced the ball like a veteran team, passing up marginally open shots to find a better shot somewhere else on the court. That led to UW hitting a handful of wide-open 3-pointers and finishing 8-for-19 (42.1 percent) behind the arc.
Parkside head coach Luke Reigel said the Rangers are as deep as they’ve even been, and that showed early on. Wisconsin’s rotations were sluggish and gave up some easy open looks, allowing Parkside – which returned four starters and scored 82 points per game a year ago – to score 30 first-half points.
That changed in the second half with Wisconsin holding Parkside to 3-for-25 shooting (12 percent) and 10 points, as only one player finished in double figures (Jimmy Gavin, 15 points).
Wisconsin forced 12 turnovers, held the Rangers 4-for-24 from 3-point range and outrebounded its opponents 53-28, taking advantage of its huge size advantage to make life difficult.
Josh Gasser – After seeing the speed return in practice, it was nice to see the confidence carry over on the floor for Gasser, who is paying without any knee braces and moving fluidly. Third in the Big Ten in shooting 3-pointers a year ago (43.1 percent), Gasser went 3-for-5 beyond the arc and 4-for-6 overall. He also added six rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers; a stat line Wisconsin will take every night.
Nigel Hayes – The theme with the sophomore we expect to say a lot this year is fluid athleticism, as multiple time Hayes flashed some speed Hayes faked a 3-pointer, drove to the bucket and successfully executed a fluid reverse layup. Hayes made his only attempted 3-point shot late in the second half, a beautiful-looking shot from the elbow that could be a big weapon in his arsenal this season.
“It felt pretty good to see your hard work pay off that you’ve been putting on throughout this offseason,” said Hayes. “That’s where we’re trying to get better, not only myself, but as a team. Seeing them go down gives you that confidence that that’s a shot I’ll be taking more often in a game, and that’s only going to help our team.”
The one concern with Hayes is his free throws. Hayes shot 58.5 percent from the line last season – worst among the rotation – and missed both of his attempts Wednesday.
Traevon Jackson – The senior was 5-for-6 from the floor, 2-for-2 from 3-point range and 3-for-4 from free throw range, scoring in a variety of ways. Jackson was sloppy at times with the basketball, including a careless behind-the-back that was misguided, but trying to be a playmaker has always been something fans will have to live with.
Bronson Koenig – Getting the start, Koenig figures to be more active within the system. He hit a nice pull-up jumper on Wisconsin’s first possession and showed no hesitation when hitting an open 3-pointer from the top of the key. More importantly, Koenig had a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and played aggressive defense in forcing guards to the baseline instead of to the bucket.
Frank Kaminsky – Having a three-inch size advantage over Parkside senior center Zygimantas Riauka, Kaminsky had little problem dictating on both ends of the floor. Riauka led Parkside with 16.7 points last year, but Kaminsky held him to 1-for-11 from the floor.
“We don’t see 7-footersr with that huge condor wingspan very often,” said Reigel.
He flashed early and often in the low post, finishing with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, including 10 on the defensive end. His more impressive play was going in for a layup, drawing contact and hanging in the air long enough to regroup to make the bucket. He even ran the floor well with the ball, delivering a couple nice passes on the move. The only thing he didn’t do well was hit from the perimeter, finishing 0-for-3.
Bench (in order of appearance)
Zak Showalter – The first player off the bench for Wisconsin, Showalter didn’t flash offensively (two points in 17 minutes), but did a lot of little things defensively. It would appear he’d be the team’s fourth guard behind Gasser, Jackson and Koenig.
Vitto Brown – The first big off the bench for Wisconsin. Brown aptly collected Kaminsky’s missed dunk attempt, but was unable to convert or draw a foul. He was able to score off a little contact in the second half and stayed aggressive driving in the paint in the second half, at one point getting a touch in the low post on three straight possessions, scoring four points. With Dukan out the first two games, Brown could see an expanded role and looks more in sync with his game that a year ago.
Ethan Happ – It’s been assumed Happ will redshirt, but don’t be so sure. On his first offensive series, Happ went up for an offensive rebound, converted the put back, drew a foul and made the free throw. Later he ripped home a one-handed flush from Koenig and set up a basket in the paint for Jackson by driving to the rim and executing a wrap-around pass around two defenders.
“He’s been doing some really good things,” said Kaminsky. “He rebounds the ball well, he plays hard, he pushed the ball in transition. From the second he’s stepped on campus he’s played hard, and Coach loves people who play hard and always will get an opportunity.”
Dukan – one of the four seniors on Wisconsin’s roster - has regained a fourth year of competition for the 2014-15 season, but, under NCAA rules, will have to miss the first four competitions of the season.
“You feel bad for Duje because he’s waited his turn,” said Gasser. “He sat out a lot of games in his career just as a freshman, sophomore, his redshirt year. He’s improved so much, gotten better and to have to sit out, even though it’s only two games, that’s still two games to add to the list.”
Recovering from mononucleosis during the 2012-13 season, Dukan chose to use his redshirt season to fully recover. He did not qualify for a medical hardship waiver because his illness was not deemed incapacitating for the entire season.
“We were wrong in that the understanding of what’s debilitating and what can qualify in that area,” Ryan said. “So you move on. Duje’s a man, and he’s taking it like a man.”
Dukan was credited with a season of competition although he played only limited minutes in Wisconsin’s exhibition contest and closed scrimmage at the beginning of the season. Per NCAA rules, only true freshmen can play in exhibition games and scrimmages and still decide to redshirt before the start of the season.
Dukan did not play in either of UW’s two scrimmages and will miss UW’s season opener Nov.14 and second game Nov.16 against Chattanooga. He’ll be eligible to return Nov.19 against Green Bay. Dukan must sit out two contests for every one in which he played.
Ryan said there was never any concern that Dukan’s career was over because precedent had been set by the NCAA in other cases.