One thing’s for sure, expectations are high in Madison. The Badgers are a preseason top ten team and have tremendous roster (and coach) continuity heading into the season. So basically, the exact opposite of last year.
New coach Greg Gard returned Wisconsin to its fundamentals. Not that the Badgers completely broke from them, but two years prior the talent at hand allowed them to color outside the lines more (so to speak). Last year’s team didn’t have the same luxury and after a tumultuous early season, Wisconsin returned to the foundation of the swing offense and what had made them great.
Like the rest of the team, Wisconsin’s backcourt is intact. Let’s take a closer look at the key contributors.
Like Nigel Hayes, Koenig was thrust into a larger role last year. Once seen as the fourth or fifth offensive option, he became the second. On the whole, he handled the transition well. His scoring average jumped from 8.7 points per game to 13.1 last year. His shooting percentages also dipped only slightly, even as his usage increased. (Koenig shot 39 percent from the field overall, and actually 39 percent from three on just over six attempts per game.)
Koenig’s a good playmaker and can spot up or shoot off the dribble. Of course, he’s also not afraid to take (and make) a big shot:
It’ll be interesting to see how Koenig evolves into his senior year. Undoubtedly, he’ll be more comfortable with a larger offensive role. We know he can score, but getting shots for teammates would be an interesting development in his game. (His assists stayed flat from 2014-15 to 2015-16.) Part of getting teammates involved is trust and with all the key parts back, he ought to have more trust in the playmakers around him.
Showalter might be the best athlete on the team (although, Khalil Iverson probably has something to say about that). It’s always been about channeling his athleticism and refining his skillset, though. He played well last year and showed an improved jumper. While he only shot 14 percent from three as a sophomore, he managed to imrpove up to 35 percent last year. Showalter can get to the rim and is dangerous off the ball. He’s a good offensive threat in the backcourt.
Wisconsin missed Josh Gasser a bunch, particularly his perimeter defense. Showalter could step into that breach and become the team’s next lock down perimeter defender this season.
To say Hill didn’t play much early in the season is an understatement. He was practically invisible. Hill played 27 minutes total over the first 12 games, six of which he didn’t appear at all. That’s startling. In fact, Hill played just two minutes in the twelfth game of the season (Bo Ryan’s last), and then logged 22 minutes the very next game against UW-Green Bay (Gard’s first) and averaged a bit over 16 MPG for the season. Not to speculate, but other than a change in coach, what happened?
It was about more than the minutes though. Hill added a spark off the bench. His impact was greater than the numbers suggest and credit to Gard for unleashing Hill with the second unit.
Pritzl intrigues a lot of Badger fans. A broken foot, for which he received a medical redshirt, sidelined him for basically all of last season. Pritzl may be a year away from stepping into the spotlight, but his future is bright. He scored more than 1,700 points in high school, good enough for a school record.
Barring injuries or any major developments, he’ll play behind Koenig and Showalter for sure, but could grab some backcourt minutes from Hill, depending on how they’re both playing.
Wisconsin’s backcourt should be pretty strong. Koenig, Showalter and Hill all stepped into larger roles and navigated them with relative success. They should all be better prepared this year. Pritzl is intriguing and likely will be a big contributor to Wisconsin’s future and if the unit can build off of last year’s success, the Badgers could be set for an impressive season.