Defense and physicality are two things that often go hand in hand on a basketball court. And judging by the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s offseason, they are seen as two key ingredients in bouncing back from an underwhelming past season.
When Wisconsin basketball fans descended on the Kohl Center for their first chance to see their team in action this season, in the form of the annual red and white scrimmage, the team had a chance to put their offseason work on display.
Speaking after the scrimmage, Head Coach Greg Gard acknowledged the progress the whole squad has made physically.
“I think all the guys have taken steps forward physically,” Gard said. “Some guys have added more, some have trimmed it back a little bit, so I think everybody physically is in a better position.”
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As the players warmed up prior to tip off the significant physical gains made by sophomore center Nate Reuvers stood out.
Reuvers, who appeared in 28 games including 15 starts in his freshmen season has added 25 pounds to his frame since last season, with the 6-foot-11 center now tipping the scales at 240 pounds.
With a few extra pounds on his side, Reuvers is looking to be more imposing on the defensive end.
“This year if I get caught behind a guy I can probably hold my ground, as opposed to last year behind the guy it’s probably a basket,” Reuvers said.
Reuvers also showed flashes of his improved offensive potential in the scrimmage, as he posted six points on a very efficient three of four shooting from the field.
The Badger big man’s built out frame helped him low in the post and when driving to the basket.
“It definitely helps, especially when you’re driving in and you’re not getting knocked off your line,” Reuvers said. “I’m able to hold my post-ups a lot better.”
Along with Reuvers, Brevin Pritzl had a strong focus on his physical conditioning during the offseason. Nutrition has been a major point of emphasis for the junior guard.
Over the summer, Pritzl took nutrition classes and worked closely with team strength and condition coach Erik Helland. Learning how to replenish energy properly in order to recover quickly and fully was a major learning point for Pritzl.
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“You have to eat the right way,” Pritzl said. “So I’ve kinda taken some time with Erik, we’re getting used to what we’re doing and that way I know what I have to put back in my body every day.”
All of this attention put on physical condition isn’t just for the beach muscles, it points to the team’s desire to be a more effective defensive team than they were a season ago. With many pointing to their defensive woes as a reason for their underwhelming record of 15 wins and 18 losses.
You have to go back more than 20 seasons to see a higher opponent points per game and field goal percentage than their marks from last season. The Badgers gave up 66 points per game and a .459 field goal percentage to their opponents.
Star forward Ethan Happ, who this week was named to the Preseason AP All-American team (the fourth Badger to receive the honor), said that improving on the defensive side of the ball is what is going to allow them to be competitive this season.
“We need to be one of the best defensive teams that Wisconsin has seen in a while,” Happ said. “Last year was not what we needed and the win-loss column showed.”
There were certainly signs of an improved defense in the red and white scrimmage as the combined field goal percentage of 34 percent was as much down to tight defense as rusty shooting.
And while a preseason inter-squad match may not be the best test of how a team is shaping up defensively, Gard was encouraged with what he saw.
“I thought defensively you can tell where most of our time has been spent and what we’ve emphasized,” Gard said. “I thought that might be the best defense that’s been played in an inter-squad game in a long time in terms of no easy baskets.”