Two Plays, Programs & States of Mind

wisconsin badgers marquette 2017 brevin pritzl

I am not the type to re-watch games I’ve seen in person. However, there was one stretch of the Marquette/Wisconsin game I had to go back and look at again on the DVR.

We’ll focus more on the second play than the first, but the first sets the scenario: With 10:18 left in the first half and Marquette already up 14, Khalil Iverson tried to drive for Wisconsin, but was stopped by Jamal Cain and doubled by Matt Heldt. In trying to kick the ball back outside to Brevin Pritzl, Iverson overlooked Sam Hauser, who stole Iverson’s cross-lane pass, took four dribbles to the other end and buried a pull-up three. It was 28-11 Marquette and Greg Gard had to take his second timeout.

Hauser’s usually a pretty cool customer, but even he couldn’t help flashing three fingers to his teammates as he went back to the bench. It was representative of a day for Marquette to wear their hearts on their sleeves. A few minutes earlier, Aaron Moesch mumbled something to Andrew Rowsey after a foul, prompting Rowsey to foolishly shove Moesch and draw technicals for both players. Later, when Markus Howard hit a dagger of a three, his non-verbals to the Badger bench went viral. As the kids like to say, savage. (Aside: Much has been made of Howard and Rowsey following in the footsteps of Xavier’s J.P. Macura by taunting the Grateful Red. The unifying factor in these incidents, though? That would be the students. Maybe it’s time for another Barry Alvarez E-mail.)

However, both Badger and Marquette fans — particularly Marquette fans who haven’t seen much of Wisconsin this year — assumed the Badgers wouldn’t go away. If there’s one thing you’re not used to seeing the 21st-century Badgers be, it’s shaken, especially in the Kohl Center.

This leads us into, in my mind, the most fascinating and emblematic possession of the day.

Wisconsin will never stop running great offensive sets, particularly out of timeouts, at least as long as it stays in the realm of the Bo Ryan coaching tree. Gard sent Iverson (number 21), Pritzl (1), Ethan Happ (22), Brad Davison (34) and Nate Reuvers (35) out with a solid plan. Davison delivered the ball to Iverson on the right wing after bringing it up, then got a screen from Happ near the right elbow and a double screen on the left block from both Reuvers and Pritzl. After Happ set the screen for Davison, he also set a ball screen for Iverson, then took off to go around the double screen himself. Iverson made the easy pass back to Davison, who, after running that gauntlet of three off-ball screens, was now back outside the arc on the left wing.

This is a stellar play. Any defense will struggle with this many screens. Marquette had two freshmen on the floor in Greg Elliott (5) and Jamal Cain (23). Elliott started the possession defending Davison and the ball. He made his way around Happ’s screen with Davison, but got lost in the double-screen down low and ended up lingering near the left block, particularly when he saw Happ come over. Howard (0) picked up Davison with the ball on the right side, abandoning his original assignment of Pritzl. Heldt, astutely aware of Happ, followed Happ through the double screen. Hauser (10) and Jamal Cain (23) stayed on their original marks of Reuvers and Iverson, respectively.

With both Cain and Heldt minding Happ, Pritzl broke from the double screen. Davison sees and hits him with a cross-court pass that settles Pritzl into an ideal shooting position a little inside the arc.

Cain isn’t leaving Iverson, but expects Pritzl to shoot, so he’s content to just hope for a rebound. Hauser gives thought to contesting the shot, but is being cleared out by Reuvers and will also just hope for a board. All five Marquette players, and the other four Badgers on the floor stop and look at Pritzl — a Sterling-brand basketball in his hands, a set stance, and no one within seven feet.

At this point, let’s pause to sing The Ballad of Brevin Pritzl.

Pritzl’s bio on reveals he may be the best shooter to ever come out of the Green Bay area. His father and brother both played college basketball. Marquette was one of eight schools Pritzl spurned scholarships from to play for the Badgers. In light of what we’re about to describe happening, the following Pritzl quotes in that May 23, 2014 JSOnline article are worth noting:

“I've had a ball and a hoop since I was 1. … If it is open and I get a sniff, I might put it up. … I've got a shooter's mentality. … I like to run around and come off screens and shoot.”

With 10:01 left in the first half and Wisconsin in need of a basket, this seemed like the moment for which Pritzl was born. The building went silent in anticipation. He held the ball at his waist for one full beat, staring at the basket. He then passed to Iverson.

It felt like Pritzl held the ball for four seconds; in reality, it was only one. Go ahead and re-watch the loop of this GIF over and over. Look at a different guy each time. Iverson, Davison and Happ can all be seen putting their palms up in varying degrees of incredulity. Marquette’s five players had to startle themselves back into playing defense after seeing the ball go in Iverson’s direction. But most notable was the sound this play made in the Kohl Center. As the ball floats from Pritzl’s hands, you can almost make out the words of a majority of the 17,287 fans on the TV broadcast:


Iverson gave the ball back to Pritzl, who found Happ near the right elbow. Happ took steps to gather the ball, then more as he looked to drive the right side of the lane. Traveling. A perfectly run, Badgerific play, perfectly set up a kid who grew up wanting nothing more than to shoot. It resulted in a turnover.

It’s unsurprising that a team fresh from finding out it would be missing key components D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King indefinitely would be a little rattled. It was similar to Marquette against Eastern Illinois after getting the news Haanif Cheatham would be transferring. But seeing the Badgers — the same team that produced confident, cocky, talents like Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes — both have a moment like Pritzl’s, and probably see their NCAA tournament streak go out the window in the process is still stunning. Gard, Happ and Davison wore thousand-yard stares in their press conferences.

The game was far from over when Pritzl passed. But there wasn’t ever a time when the Badgers felt like the team that wanted it more. The result: The biggest win for either side in the rivalry game since 1994, plus a lot of happy Marquette fans and a dead quiet Kohl Center. This year, the better team, the more exciting team, and the more confident team in the state of Wisconsin is undoubtedly Marquette.


NEXT UP: Marquette gets to put Harry Froling on the floor against Northern Illinois Monday.

[Screen captures courtesy FS1]

Photo: Wisconsin Badgers

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