Know Thy Enemy: Previewing Ethan Happ, how to end five game losing skid to Spartans
In advance of Tuesday night’s matchup between No. 11 Michigan State and No. 20 Wisconsin, The State News spoke to Vicki Dombeck, the sports editor of the Badger Herald, Wisconsin’s student newspaper, to get a feel for the Badger team.
The following is a transcription of the phone conversation, that has been edited for clarity.
Q: Wisconsin is playing really well right now, despite losing Saturday at Michigan. What has been working during their recent six-game win streak?
A: I think the biggest thing is every player is finding their own spot. On the offensive side, you’re looking at (sophomore guard) Brad Davison going from the point guard because (redshirt sophomore guard) D’Mitrik Trice was injured, to going back to the shooting guard position. At the beginning of the season, he wasn’t finding his stroke, he wasn’t clicking it. But, I think definitely over the six-game win streak he found that. With people like D’Mitrik Trice shooting, (redshirt senior forward) Ethan Happ dominating the lane, getting some more offense out of people like (redshirt junior guard) Brevin Pritzl and some people off the bench has been great. I think the biggest thing is we have come more in terms of Wisconsin basketball, which is the defensive end. I think even if our inconsistent offense isn’t always there, our defense is able to step up and take away some of the big players that our opponents bring.
Q: Wisconsin is sort of known for the slow tempo and the pack-line defense. Do you think what has happened recently is that they’re playing that sort of old Bo Ryan, Dick Bennett style more?
A: I think they’re controlling the tempo more. The Badger defense and offense has been known to play a little bit slower than other teams that are just, go-go-go. I think they’ve been able to control the tempo through these last six or seven games, which has really helped them. Earlier, they were trying to play the tempo of other (teams), and that wasn’t their strong suit, and that wasn’t Badger basketball.
Q: Ethan Happ might be the best player in the Big Ten. What makes him special?
A: His footwork is second-to-none. You look at players like (sophomore center) Nate Reuvers who look like they can just beat you up on the post, but they’d rather have Ethan Happ in there. It’s his footwork, and his ability to just finesse the ball off the glass is ridiculous, being able to watch that firsthand. I know one big thing is that he trained under (former Badger forward and current Charlotte Hornet) Frank Kaminsky. That first year when he was a redshirt freshman, he trained under Frank Kaminsky, he learned that footwork, he was just able to grow it through the coaching staff through the years. He definitely has an old-school kind of game, where he can’t go out there and shoot the three repetitively, and his jump shot hasn’t developed, but his footwork under the basket is second-to-none.
Q: Brad Davison seems to be one of those guys that his fans love and opposing teams hate. What’s the vibe around him within this Badger program?
A: I definitely see Brad Davison as the leader of that time. Only being a sophomore has not held him back the past couple seasons. If you watch someone gets a foul, someone turns the ball over, he’s constantly bringing them together, re-channeling everybody, getting everyone on the same page. He’s the guy at the Kohl Center who gets the crowd going, gets the energy up and at ‘em, and he’s just definitely stepped up in big times. When the Badgers need a play, they look at him to get it done, whether it’s on the defensive end with a charge or the offensive end with a big three-pointer. He’s kind of the all-around motivator of the Badger team.
Q: Wisconsin has lost five straight to Michigan State, dating back to January 2016. What do the Badgers need to do to notch a victory against the Spartans Tuesday night?
A: First of all, you’re coming to the Kohl Center. As you probably know, the Kohl Center has wreaked havoc on Top 10 teams through the past decade or so. I think what they need to do is going back to controlling the tempo, limiting some of Michigan State’s big offensive producers, and I think finding their rhythm and finding their stroke early. Their outside shooting has been fairly inconsistent. Some games, they’ll be able to shoot lights out, some games it’s depended mainly on points in the paint for their scoring. So, I think defensive effiecncy and shutting down some of the big offensive players, and then on offense really just finding consitency and getting points from people off the bench like Brevin Pritzl, (redshirt freshman guard) Kobe King, and (redshirt sophomore forward Aleem Ford) is really key. I think early in the season, we saw three players score- it was Ethan Happ, Brad Davison, and D’Mitrik Trice, and that was it. I think we’ve gotten a lot more bench play, and I think that’ll be important moving forward against Michigan State as well as in the season as a whole.