Ethan Happ

Junior center Ethan Happ, the only returning starter for the Wisconsin men's basketball team, was a unanimous selection on the preseason All-Big Ten first team.

M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

The predictions that have been rolling in have been met by a collective shrug of the shoulders inside the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball locker room.

“I hear it, but it’s nothing we have to be concerned with,” sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl said last week at the Badgers’ media day. “Expectations from the outside are always going to be different than what we have on the inside.”

Another poll was released Tuesday morning, and it was certainly an eye opener to UW and its fans. In a survey of 28 beat writers from around the Big Ten, the Badgers are picked to finish seventh in the conference in 2017-18.

Michigan State was a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten, followed by Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern. Maryland and Michigan tied for fifth, followed by UW, Iowa, Indiana, Penn State, Ohio State, Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers.

The Badgers haven’t finished below fourth place in the Bo Ryan/Greg Gard era — a remarkable run of consistency — but they have to replace four starters from a team that won 27 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season.

UW was picked to finish as high as third place by two voters and slotted to finish ninth by one voter.

Junior center Ethan Happ, the Badgers' only returning starter, was a first-team All-Big Ten pick last season and he’s a unanimous selection on the beat writers' 2017-18 preseason All-Big Ten team. But he’s the only player on the UW roster who has logged more than 1,000 career minutes.

The Badgers enter the season with a combined 5,088 minutes played. That’s the lowest total since the 2005-06 season, when UW returned a combined 4,372 minutes from an Elite Eight squad.

Gard likes the chemistry on this team and believes an offseason trip to Australia and New Zealand — the Badgers won four of their five exhibition games — will speed up the development of some of their inexperienced players.

He’s counting on sophomores D’Mitrik Trice and Pritzl — the likely starters in the backcourt — to make big strides this season.

He’s hopeful the four frontcourt members of UW’s 2015 recruiting class — Khalil Iverson, Andy Van Vliet, Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen — will make the jump that others have made from Year 2 to Year 3 in the program.

He’s confident the three members of the Badgers’ 2017 class — guards Brad Davison and Kobe King, and forward Nate Reuvers — will contribute immediately.

One thing is certain: Gard and Co. won’t spend any time analyzing where the media predicts the Badgers will finish.

“We don’t really talk about it too much,” King said. “We kind of tune out the outside world. It’s more like, ‘You have to play us and see us play before you can really say anything.’

“There have been plenty of years where Wisconsin hasn’t had the best talent and they’ve been very good. That’s something that we don’t really worry about. We just worry about what we can control, and that’s getting better.”

Happ was joined on the preseason All-Big Ten team by Michigan State sophomore forward Miles Bridges, Michigan junior forward Moritz Wagner, Minnesota senior guard Nate Mason and Northwestern senior guard Bryant McIntosh.

Bridges was a unanimous pick as preseason player of the year, while Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. was selected as the preseason freshman of the year.

Gard, Happ and Trice will represent UW at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

UW hosts its Red/White Scrimmage on Sunday at the Kohl Center. The event is free and is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

The Badgers host UW-Stout in an exhibition game on Nov. 5 and officially begin the season with a game against South Carolina State on Nov. 10, also at home.

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