MADISON, Wis. — College basketball fans unaccustomed to seeing Wisconsin push the tempo could be in for quite a shock when the Badgers embark on a five-game, eight-day road trip to Canada this week. The team that takes the floor likely will be the fastest Wisconsin unit in decades.
Enjoy it while it lasts, however, because the pace will return to normal after the trip. For one week only, Wisconsin will have to deal with a 24-second shot clock and an eight-second backcourt violation rule as part of international basketball regulations.
“I think the 24-second shot clock will be interesting,” Badgers guard Ben Brust said. “With eight seconds in the backcourt you might get some teams that pressure, then drop back into a zone. There’s so many unknowns. It’s exciting. Twenty-four seconds, that’s a couple more possessions, so we’ll see how many shots we can get up.”
Last season, Wisconsin ranked 320th out of 347 Division I teams in possessions per game, averaging 63.6. Only Northwestern (63.3) and Nebraska (63.2) had fewer possessions per game among Big Ten teams.
Wisconsin will be participating in an international trip for the first time since 2006, and the Badgers have spent time practicing the new rules, which also include different court lengths, lane sizes and 3-point distances. The 3-point distance in the international game is 22 feet, 1.75 inches compared to 20 feet, 9 inches in college.
Ryan, who has coached under similar rules as part of the World University Games, said he wasn’t all that concerned about the rules changes. He joked the 24-second shot clock was “so all these guys can pretend they’re in the NBA.”
“We’ve run drills with 17 seconds on the clock,” he said. “It’s amazing. Basketball players will find the rim if there’s six seconds or there’s 30 seconds.”
Wisconsin will travel to Ottawa on Aug. 20 and begin play with an Aug. 21 exhibition contest against Canadian powerhouse Carleton University. Following a game with the University of Ottawa on Aug. 22, the Badgers will travel to Toronto for three games in three days against the Canadian Junior National Team (Aug. 24), Ryerson University (Aug. 25) and senior men’s select team A-Game Hoops (Aug. 26).
“They can play,” Ryan said of the competition. “Some of these colleges, teams like Illinois and St. Louis have lost to Carleton and some others. They’re not bad. And they’re a lot better than they were 10, 20 years ago. Canadian basketball has improved a lot.”
The trip will be particularly important for Wisconsin this season because it brings in six freshmen to the team: forward Nigel Hayes, forward Vitto Brown, forward Aaron Moesch, guard Jordan Hill, guard Riley Dearring and guard Bronson Koenig.
“It’s definitely good,” Badgers guard Josh Gasser said. “Just having these practices here has really helped us out. Freshmen are way ahead of schedule. Our team is, too. We graduated three frontline players who started. We’re going to have a pretty new team.
“Any time you can play some different competition, we get kind of sick of playing each other all the time. Playing different teams is definitely going to help you out, just seeing different styles, different guys. It’s definitely going to be good for us.”
Ryan noted the trip was important because of the camaraderie players develop, from traveling to having a roommate to meeting for every meal to preparing for games together.
“Here, you’re in your comfort zone,” Ryan said. “Now you take yourself out of that zone and put yourself into, even though it’s not a country very far away, you’re in a different setting. So we’ll see how guys react.”
Ryan praises Hayes: Ryan rarely offers effusive praise for one of his freshmen, but he hasn’t been shy about lauding newcomer Nigel Hayes.
Hayes is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward from Toledo, Ohio, who averaged 15.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 blocks per game last season at Whitmer High School. Given that the Badgers lost their entire starting frontcourt to graduation, he could be in line to see substantial minutes.
Earlier this week, Ryan told The Sporting News that Hayes was “the real deal” and elaborated some on Sunday.
“Physically, he’s more mature than most freshmen you see throughout the country,” Ryan said. “Now it’s a matter of his basketball skills and savvy and IQ improving and figuring out how we do things.”
Brust also noted Hayes’ physique had turned heads in practice.
“It hurts when you run into him,” Brust said. “I’ll tell you that much. First open gym, I go up for a rebound. Next thing I know I’m under the basket. Oh my goodness. He’s a big kid.”