- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The weakness in Ethan Happ’s otherwise solid offensive game is so obvious that the Wisconsin big man knows how defenders are going to play him.

Just check out the sophomore’s stats from his Big Ten Freshman of the Year campaign: 12.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds - and no 3-pointers. Not even an attempt from behind the arc.

That should change this season.

If the 6-foot-10 Happ can add a solid jumper to his offensive arsenal , a deep Badgers team led by seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig will be even tougher to stop. Wisconsin is already the preseason favorite in the Big Ten.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a prolific 3-point shooter but the confidence to be able to play on the perimeter is much higher than it was a year ago,” coach Greg Gard said. “In all, a very good step in the right direction.”

Hayes (15.7 points) and Koenig (13.1 points) are known commodities . They were key players on two Final Four teams. They took over as team leaders last year as juniors.

Happ emerged in 2015-16 to give the Badgers’ their own version of a “Big Three.”

Happ can run the floor. He can pass out of a double team. He can get excellent position in the post and spin away from defenders.

But he never showed last year that he could hit a jumper.

Asked if defenses would challenge him to shoot from the outside, Happ said “If the roles were reversed, and there was a player who didn’t shoot a 3 last year, I would do the same thing.”

In the offseason, Happ focused on shooting six days a week. He would shoot jumpers until he made at least 500 from the outside. On the seventh day, he used that time to focus on another workout or conditioning.

“My shot was kind of out here,” Happ said, holding his hands slightly above and to the right of his head, as if about to shoot a free throw. “Now I’m kind of bringing it more to the center of my body.”

Other notes and story lines this season for Wisconsin:

TAKING STANDS

Hayes and Koenig drew attention in the offseason for their high-profile stands on off-court issues. Koenig, a Ho-Chunk Nation member, drove 11 hours to North Dakota last month to take part in a protest over the construction of an oil pipeline on the Standing Rock Indiana Reservation. Hayes has been vocal about social justice issues. He also recently took a stand to publicize the issue of pay for college athletes.

“To hear them talk about it … I’m just proud how they’ve been able to take their college experiences and to develop it into something way more than basketball,” Gard said.

Hayes declined to take questions at Wisconsin media day at the Kohl Center on Oct. 17, electing only to make a statement running down the strengths of the team before he had to leave to take a test.

EXPERIENCE

Few teams in the country are as seasoned as Wisconsin. Guard Zak Showalter (7.5 points) and forward Vitto Brown (9.7 points) join Hayes and Koenig to give the Badgers four seniors in the starting lineup with NCAA tourney experience. The Badgers return their top nine scorers.

DEEP BENCH

The roster is getting deeper. Redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl, thought to be the team’s best outside shooter, is healthy again after missing his first year at Wisconsin with a foot injury. Andy Van Vliet, a 7-footer, adds needed size behind Happ. The Belgian missed last year after the NCAA ruled him ineligible for not enrolling in college within a year of high school graduation.

ON GARD

The meticulous Gard enters his first full season as head coach after taking over in December following Bo Ryan’s surprise retirement. He has provided a steadying influence. Wisconsin had an 11-2 run to finish the regular season.

STAT LINE

The Badgers have been to 18 straight NCAA tournaments. They’re the only team to reach the regional semifinals in five of the last six years.

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Online:

AP College Basketball site: https://collegebasketball.ap.org/

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Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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