Ethan Happ

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Wisconsin takes trip Down Under with team in transition

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — At some point on Saturday on a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard will settle into his seat to watch scouting video from a laptop computer.

No better way to help fill the time on a 16-hour flight to New Zealand for the Badgers basketball team.

“I think I got plenty of time to read a handbook, watch videos, do a lot of things,” Gard joked.

The NCAA allows schools to go on foreign exhibition tours every four years, an excursion that gives teams 10 practices to prepare for the summer games. It is precious time for coaches and players to work together on and off the court, tasks that otherwise couldn’t start until October.

The last time the Badgers took an international trip, they had a pretty good season.

The program four summers ago played in Canada at a time when the team was also replacing most of its starting lineup. Less experienced players and future stars like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, along with then-freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, got their first taste of playing together as a team.

Seven months later, they made a run to their first of back-to-back Final Four appearances.

Then-coach Bo Ryan “always talked about how much that trip helped,” said fifth-year senior Aaron Moesch, who was redshirted in 2013-14. The reserve forward is also the only player who was on the roster for both Final Four teams.

“Correlation doesn’t mean causation,” Moesch added before practice on Wednesday in Madison. “But there’s definitely something to be said about having those extra games, especially with a young team.”

Similarly, this five-game, 12-day tour to New Zealand and Australia comes after the program lost four senior starters in Hayes, Koenig, forward Vitto Brown and guard Zak Showalter. The roster has been replenished with a decorated recruiting class, including freshman guard Kobe King, a unanimous selection as Wisconsin’s state prep player of the year.

Practices so far have been energetic. Returnees will assume new responsibilities, and everyone is feeling out their respective roles.

“That’s what has been nice about this summer — we’ve covered things normally you don’t cover until October and November. Terminology, scheme, philosophy, specifically the defensive end of things,” Gard said. “I’m excited for these guys to put all that knowledge and work they’ve committed to do, to work over there and see what happens.”

Big man Ethan Happ is one of the holdovers on the team whose role will expand this season. The 6-foot-10 junior with the dominating post game might become an even bigger focal point of the offense with Hayes and Koenig gone.

Happ will use the trip to New Zealand and Australia to continue working on skills that he has focused on this offseason, including his outside shot, as well as ball-handling and decreasing turnovers.

“Then as a team basically just see who’s ready and willing to work on the floor,” Happ said. “It’s easy to do in practice, but it’s a lot different when the lights are on. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up.”

2017 NCAA tournament: Here are nine big men that can carry their teams to a Final Four

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One of the great things about the 2017 NCAA Tournament is that there will be a number of great big men taking the floor all over the field.

There are one-and-done NBA Draft prospects, senior veterans, sophomore All-Americans, juniors coming off of career seasons. It’s a wide variety of players on this list, but they are all low post studs who you need to see during the next few weeks.

While many of these guys are playing on teams that expect to make deep tournament runs, there are other elite bigs who might only last for a round or two.

Make sure to catch these guys if you can.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The man known as Biggie as much for his frame (6-9, 250 pounds) as his game (18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game), Swanigan might be the premier big man in the country. His production is immense and consistent as he’s registered 26 double-doubles on the season along with four 20-20 games. After spending last year as somewhat of an understudy to A.J. Hammonds, Swanigan this year has emerged as a national player of the year candidate as the numbers he’s put up are not only huge, but they’re also not a product of tempo inflation. The Boilermakers are in the middle of the pack in terms of pace, and Swanigan’s efficiency numbers are all strong, especially his 33.3 defensive rebounding percentage, which ranks third nationally.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ is much in the same mold as Swanigan, if not quite the voracious rebounder but certainly skilled, effective and a serious difference-maker on the defensive end. Happ is putting up 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 58.2 percent from the field. His offense extends beyond just scoring, however, has he’s an adept distributor and excellent on the offensive boards. Wisconsin may be entering the NCAA tournament having just fought off a late-season skid, but Happ is as good and reliable as they come.

Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The latest in a long line of length, athletic big men at Baylor under Scott Drew, Motley has had a brilliant season that helped push the Bears to No. 1 in the country at one point and his draft stock into the first round. The 6-foot-10 junior is putting up 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game after averaging 11 and 5 a year ago. He’s one of the most relentless offensive rebounders in the country, and rarely does a game go by without a tip dunk from him. He and fellow Baylor big Jo Lual-Acuil anchor Baylor’s amoeba zone that will undoubtedly be difficult for teams unacquainted with it to crack this month.

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame:  Colson is a big by position only, as at 6-foot-5, he doesn’t fit the typical definition. His size, though, doesn’t preclude him from putting up big numbers in the post, as he’s averaging 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He’s ultra-crafty and possesses basketball IQ in abundance. He’s more than capable of beating teams inside (54 percent shooting on 2s) and outside (40.7 percent on 3s) while also being a better rebounder and shot blocker than his size and limited athleticism would suggest possible.

Mike Daum, South Dakota State: You may not know the name now, but after a Daum-inant performance against No. 1 Gonzaga in the first round, you’ll probably find yourself Daum-anding a Daum-onstration on why he’s so Daum-aging to a defense. He scored 51 points in a game earlier this year and went for 35 points and 12 boards in the Summit League title game. That should be worth some free Daum-inoes after the game.

Jock Landale, St. Mary’s: The Gaels have largely been overshadowed, not only nationally by in their own conference, by Gonzaga, and Landale’s fantastic season has been underappreciated. The 6-foot-11 junior is shooting 60.9 percent from the floor, averaging 16.8 points along with 9.3 rebounds per game. His is a name to know well this month.

Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: The man is a mountain. At 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, there are few college players that can counter Karnowski’s size, but that’s not the only way he’s able to be effective. He’s a 60.1 percent shooter, yes, but Karnowski’s true talent is his ability to pass. Given his girth, teams frequently send double-teams his way, but they are often proven ineffective and he’s able to first diagnose them and then able to beat them with his vision and deftness at moving the ball. His size and ability is one piece of what makes the Zags so seriously good.

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: Delgado is another double-double machine on this list, averaging 15.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per outing. He ranks in the top-12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage nationally, per KenPom, while playing major minutes for a big. He doesn’t offer the same level of rim protection as some of the other players on this list, but his rebounding eliminates opportunities for opponents while creating them for his team.

Lauri Markkanan, Arizona: The freshman 7-footer’s big season helped the Wildcats not only stay afloat by thrive early in the season with Alonzo Trier sidelined, and he’s established himself as quite the draft prospect. The most appealing aspect of his game is the 43.2 percent he shoots on the more than four 3-point attempts he averages per game. He’s no slouch on the boards, either, averaging 7.1 per game.

Player of the Week: James Blackmon Jr., Indiana

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This could have been the week where Indiana’s season collapsed.

On Wednesday night, O.G. Anunoby, who is arguably the most irreplaceable player on the Hoosier roster, injured his knee badly enough that he will need surgery and miss the rest of the season. The injury happened in the first half of a game against Penn State. Tom Crean said after the game that the team was crying in the locker room at half time.

The Hoosiers then proceeded to blow a big lead to the Nittany Lions, allowing Penn State to draw even in the final minute of regulation. That’s when Blackmon stepped up. The Hoosier star buried a three at the buzzer to give Indiana the win; a loss in that game could have been the kind of thing that sent Indiana’s season spiraling. The shot wasn’t a morale booster as much as it was a morale saver.

On Saturday, Indiana put together one of their best games of the season despite the fact that they were without Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, who was dealing with a foot injury that has now kept him out of back-to-back games. Blackmon, again, was the star, matching a career-high with 33 points.

Suddenly, Indiana has won four of their last five games and are sitting at 4-3 in the Big Ten standings, just two games out of first place.

In the long term, I don’t know if Indiana is going to be able to play at the level Hoosier fans expect without Anunoby. But in the short term, Saturday was an impressive win in a trying week, and it was Blackmon who stepped up to lead with the Hoosiers needed it the most.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned | Top 25

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Markkanen, as he has all season long, starred for the Wildcats this weekend, helping No. 14 Arizona keep pace with Oregon at the top of the Pac-12 standings. The Wildcats swept the road leg against the LA schools, as Markkanen went for 23 points in a win over USC and followed that up with 18 points and seven boards in the big win over UCLA.
  • Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: The Seminoles had a massive week, and Isaac was the best player on the floor in both of their wins. Against Notre Dame, Isaac had 15 of his 23 points in the second half, adding 10 boards and a pair of game-saving blocks in the final second, and he followed that up with 16 points and 10 boards as Florida State knocked off Louisville.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ was pretty good in Wisconsin’s win over Michigan, but he was sensational as the Badgers went into Minneapolis and beat Minnesota in overtime, finishing with 28 points, 12 boards, six assists and five blocks. No one had put up a stat line like that since at least 2010.
  • Marcus Keene, Central Michigan: Keene became the first player since South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters in 2013 to go for 50 points in a game, scoring 39 of the 50 in the second half of a win over Miami (OH).
  • Shake Milton, SMU: SMU is quietly rolling along at 17-4, a two-point loss at Cincinnati away from being undefeated in the AAC. The Mustangs picked up a pair of wins this week as Milton averaged 25 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 boards.

VIDEO: Nigel Hayes’ game-winner caps Wisconsin scrimmage

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Sunday afternoon Wisconsin held its annual Red vs. White Scrimmage at the Kohl Center, giving fans their first look at a team that will look far different from the one that made two consecutive Final Four appearances (runners-up last season). Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson have all moved on, leaving juniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes as the leaders for Bo Ryan’s 2015-16 squad.

It would be Hayes who provided the end of game heroics Sunday, as his contested step-back three from the left corner in the final seconds gave the Red team a 47-45 victory over the White. They had a little help down the stretch too, as a dubious technical foul was assessed to make it a one-possession affair ahead of Hayes’ game-winner.

Zak Showalter led the winning team with 11 points and two assists, with freshman Andy Van Vliet chipping in with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks in his Kohl Center debut. Koenig paced the White team with a game-high 14 points to go along with three rebounds and three assists, and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ chipped in with eight points and eight rebounds.

Wisconsin, which has finished no worse than tied for fourth in the Big Ten since Ryan took over as head coach, opens its regular season November 13 against Western Illinois. Above are highlights from the scrimmage, along with Ryan’s explanation of the technical foul, courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics.