It remains to be seen how much scoreboard watching Greg Gard will do when his University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team hosts Northern Iowa Wednesday night.
The exhibition game between the Badgers and the Panthers was added to the schedule last week and will benefit areas affected by recent hurricanes. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center, but tickets are no longer being distributed for the event.
For Gard, it’s another chance to see his young team perform before the games start counting on Nov. 10, when UW opens the regular season against visiting South Carolina State.
This is the second of three exhibition-type games for the Badgers, who beat Missouri 74-66 in a closed scrimmage on Saturday and will host UW-Stout on Sunday.
How much does winning these games matter to Gard?
“Obviously, we like to compete,” he said earlier this week. “We like to have the score end up in our favor. But at the same time, I know I still have a lot to learn about these guys and they have a lot to learn in terms of the flow of the game and who’s ready and who’s taking steps and who has a ways to go yet.
“It’s a combination of both. I’m not going to say that winning doesn’t matter, because that’s not true. And I’m not going to say that we’re not going to experiment because I’m going to use a lot of different guys just like I did on Saturday night. We’ll continue to learn and that’s again one of the benefits of having the extra game is it’s another opportunity to use different combinations and play in front of a crowd.”
Gard has settled on a starting lineup — at least for now — of junior Ethan Happ at center, juniors Andy Van Vliet and Khalil Iverson at forward, and sophomores D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl at guard. Happ is the only returning starter from a 2016-17 team that went 27-10 and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Freshman guard Brad Davison has established himself as the first player off the bench, with freshman guard Kobe King next in line. It appears the frontcourt rotation is still a work in progress, with junior Charlie Thomas leading a trio that also includes junior Alex Illikainen and freshman Nate Reuvers.
“I think everybody’s still trying to find out what their capabilities are, what their roles are going to be,” Gard said. “I think we’re starting to get to a point where we have a pretty good idea of who’s going to be in the rotation.”
Northern Iowa is coming off its first losing season since 2002-03. The Panthers went 14-16 in 2016-17, tying for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 9-9 mark.
Northern Iowa has two players with ties to Wisconsin. Bennett Koch, a fifth-year senior forward from Ashwaubenon, averaged 11.0 points last season and is a first-team preseason All-Missouri Valley pick.
Sophomore guard Juwan McCloud, who averaged 3.7 points last season, played at Germantown. He helped the Warhawks reach the WIAA Division 1 state title game as a junior in 2014-15 and was named first-team All-State the following season.
Davison and Northern Iowa freshman guard Tywhon Pickford were teammates at Maple Grove High School in the Minneapolis area. Panthers siblings Wyatt and Tanner Lohaus are the sons of Brad Lohaus, who played at Iowa in the 1980s and went on to a 12-year career in the NBA, including five seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks (1989-94).
Northern Iowa is a contrast to Missouri, which was big, athletic and tested UW’s transition defense at times. Traditionally under coach Ben Jacobson, the Panthers have done a good job limiting turnovers while playing at a slow pace.
The Badgers and Panthers have met in closed scrimmages in recent years, but Gard scheduled Missouri this season to give his inexperienced team a different look.
“I thought it was a good counter to what we saw with Missouri,” Gard said of scheduling Northern Iowa for the hurricane relief exhibition.
“Obviously as we go through the non-conference (schedule) we’ll see a variety of styles of play. We have to be adaptable to all.”