Greg Gard didn’t hesitate earlier this week when asked what stands out to him about the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team as it makes final preparations for the official start of the 2018-19 season.
“The versatility of the group,” he said.
Gard said he used some unique lineups when UW played Iowa State in a closed scrimmage on Sunday in Platteville. He’ll likely do the same again on Friday night when the Badgers play host to UW-Oshkosh in an exhibition game at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers will be without sophomore forward Aleem Ford, who had surgery Wednesday after injuring his knee in practice two days earlier. The UW coaching staff is hopeful Ford will be ready to return to the lineup by early December.
Ford came off the bench in the scrimmage against Iowa State and finished with a team-high 19 points. UW likely will open the season with a traditional starting lineup that includes two guards (D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison) along with three frontcourt players (Ethan Happ, Nate Reuvers and Khalil Iverson), but Gard will use three-guard lineups and could even go smaller than that at times.
“That’s part of the experimentation going on anyway, with or without Aleem,” Gard said. “We’re still learning who can play where and what everybody’s comfortable with. The nice thing is we have some options.”
The return of sophomore D’Mitrik Trice from a foot injury and the addition sophomore Trevor Anderson, a transfer from UW-Green Bay, has provided point guard depth that was lacking last season. Trice and Anderson may even be on the floor at the same time.
Davison, meanwhile, will shift to the wing after spending most of last season at point guard. He also can play the “3” spot.
Ditto for junior Brevin Pritzl and redshirt freshman Kobe King, who is returning from a knee injury.
Gard has toyed with four-guard lineups in previous seasons, though not for extended periods, but that could become a more frequent option considering UW has plenty of guards available.
King’s versatility on defense is a luxury that would allow Gard to use a lineup of four perimeter threats — Trice, Davison, Pritzl and King, perhaps — around Happ. That’s an intriguing possibility, especially for Gard.
“Yeah, it is,” he said. “That was even the plan prior to Monday. I don’t think this setback with Aleem was going to deviate what we want this team or what we think this team can become.”
UW-Oshkosh, meanwhile, is coming off its best season in program history. The Titans went 25-8 and advanced to the NCAA Division III title game for the first time, falling 78-72 to Nebraska Wesleyan.
Matt Lewis, who has spent the past six seasons as a UW-Oshkosh assistant coach, was promoted to interim head coach after Pat Juckem left for Washington University in St. Louis in May.
The Titans return their top four scorers from 2017-18, a group led by preseason All-American Ben Boots. The senior guard averaged 16.0 points last season and made eight 3-pointers in a 36-point outburst vs. Augustana (Ill.) College in the Elite Eight.
His backcourt mate, senior Brett Wittchow, averaged 10.8 points and shot 49.1 percent from beyond the arc last season. Two other returnees, junior center Jack Flynn (12.8) and junior forward Adam Fravert (12.3), averaged in double figures in 2017-18.
“As I told the team on Monday, there’s one thing about Division III players you better understand real quick: Don’t play them in H-O-R-S-E,” Gard said. “You’ll never have to question the toughness, the skill level or the shooting ability.”