Five Takeaways from Wisconsin Basketball’s French Exhibition Tour

·6 min read

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team concluded its 10-day, four-game exhibition tour across France on Monday; finishing said tour with a 4-0 record.

“It got really physical, which is good,” said Gard in a post-game video. “I think it exposed things that our younger guys maybe weren’t accustomed to with college basketball. It won’t be quite this physical, but it’s still good for us.”

Still, in the early stages of mixing and matching lineup combinations, coach Gard essentially deployed two separate line changes that remained fluid and everchanging throughout the trip.

“I’m really not concerned about what the score says,” Gard explained. “I’m more concerned about making sure we get guys experience, specifically guys who are new to the program or haven’t played a lot in the past. That’s forcing me to play a lot of guys. I wanted to force myself specifically to give everyone a chance.”

Although the trip’s primary focus was geared toward bonding and growing as a team, there were also several notable takeaways on the court.

Here are my main takeaways from Wisconsin’s overseas trip:

Markus Ilver will be a factor

Nov 9, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Markus Ilver (35) works the ball against St. Francis Terriers forward Patrick Emilien (left) at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

After a freshman season that saw Markus Ilver appear in just eight games, the sophomore forward seems to be ready to make an impact in year two.

During the overseas trip, Ilver scored in double-figures twice, showcasing his three-point shooting prowess that the Badgers desperately need more of this upcoming season.

Coach Gard has plenty of minutes to replace, specifically off the bench, but the 6-foot-8, 220-pounder looks like he’s ready to push for a regular spot in the rotation, which should make Badgers fans quite happy.

Connor Essegian and Isaac Lindsay might be competing for the same minutes

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – MARCH 20: Tre Jackson #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones and Isaac Lindsey #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers dive for the ball during the second half in the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Fiserv Forum on March 20, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Walk-on Isaac Lindsay has drawn strong reviews from those inside the Badgers practice facility since joining the program. A year learning behind veteran guard Brad Davison helped transform his playing style and work ethic behind the scenes.

Now, in his second year, his gritty style of play and three-point shooting ability may have him on the cusp of a regular spot in the rotation. His most significant threat to those minutes? Incoming freshman Connor Essegian, who is a marksman in his own right.

After playing sparingly in game one, Essegian scored in double-figures in Wisconsin’s last three games, an encouraging sign for a young player just learning the system.

Both wings produced when given a chance and knocked down shots from beyond the arc, which is something UW desperately needs more of to improve offensively.

Who gets those minutes next season is anyone’s guess. Still, their similar playing styles and UW’s need for wing production will make this an interesting position battle to monitor throughout the fall.

Transfer players are still getting acclimated

Nov 23, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Wofford Terriers guard Max Klesmit (2) drives against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Wofford transfer Max Klesmit and UW-Green Bay point guard Kamari Mcgee are new to the program this offseason, both of whom should play significant roles for the Badgers this upcoming season.

The extra practice time for the overseas trip is invaluable for the program, but even more so for the incoming transfers who need to play catchup and learn an entirely new system.

Although the box scores might reflect a minimal impact, it’s important to remember that both players are experienced and in the early stages of learning how to play with their new teammates.

Please don’t read into the box scores too much because they ultimately don’t matter or tell the whole story. I’m confident that Klesmit will be UW’s starting SG this season, and McGee will assume the reigns as the backup PG.

Chris Hodges will be the backup big man

Mar 16, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Wisconsin Badgers mascot “Bucky Badger” performs during the first half in the Big Ten conference tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Barring an unforeseen last-minute addition, redshirt freshman Chris Hodges will be Wisconsin’s backup big man in 2022-23.

Ready or not, Hodges will play a valuable role for UW, one that most feel he isn’t prepared to assume. After sitting out his senior season due to the pandemic, he redshirted last year and looked the part physically but will be thrown into the fire and learn on the job once the season begins.

The 6-foot-9 forward is strong, plays with a great motor, and is athletic, so there is definitely some upside here. The downside is he’s young, inexperienced, and in my opinion, still raw on the offensive end.

The hope is that he can provide a solid defensive presence and make an impact as a rebounder.

The “Big 3” is a rock-solid foundation for UW to build around

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 22: Wade Taylor IV #4 of the Texas A&M Aggies drives the ball against Chucky Hepburn #23 and Tyler Wahl #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the 2021 Maui Invitational basketball tournament at Michelob ULTRA Arena on November 22, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wisconsin won 69-58. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Despite losing Johnny Davis, Brad Davison, Chris Vogt, and several other contributors from last season’s team, there is still plenty of room for optimism this season. Why, you ask? Because Wisconsin returns three key starters from last season: Chucky Hepburn, Tyler Wahl, and Steven Crowl.

The trio, while incredibly talented, appears more physically ready to take on the grind that comes with being a program’s top scoring options.

I firmly believe all three players are ready to take significant steps forward this season, and if UW can surround them with improved outside shooting, the Badgers will be much better than most people outside the program would expect.

Side note, don’t be surprised when Jordan Davis takes a big step forward and becomes a reliable starter for Wisconsin this season.

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