D'Mitrik Trice Emerging in Key Ways for Wisconsin
Through 24 games of the 2019-20 season, redshirt junior D'Mitrik Trice already has set a career-high for total assists (93) in a single year. As UW noted on Sunday in its postgame notes after the 70-57 win over Ohio State, Trice has contributed 25 of those in the last four contests -- an average of 6.3 per outing in that span.
In fact, in seven of the last eight games, Trice has dished out at least four assists. Against the Buckeyes, he recorded a season-high eight.
"I thought D'Mitrik is really starting to evolve into a point guard," head coach Greg Gard said on Sunday after the home win. "His numbers have been consistently very good. We've got to work on some things as we're icing games away and shot clock situations. but that's for me to help him get better at and see things a little bit better. Like I said, he's really becoming a very consistent, solid contributor and good leader at the point guard position."
As of Feb. 14, Trice is tied for sixth in the Big Ten with Northwestern's Pat Spencer in assists per game (3.9). From the perspective of the redshirt junior, whose current assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.21, his aggressiveness has been a key factor.
"Finding my own confidence in the abilities that I can bring to this team and finding my flow within the offense and finding guys and getting guys in the right spots has been big for me," Trice told reporters on Thursday. "Just overall, my aggressiveness on the offensive end has been the biggest thing, finding guys in transition, instilling confidence into my teammates from top to bottom has been the biggest thing.
"Guys are trusting me, and I got to tip my hat to them. They’re making shots so that also makes me look good.”
That feeling of becoming more aggressive, according to Trice, had surfaced during certain spurts of the season. With Kobe King's announced departure from the men's basketball program in late January, however, he felt he has needed to elevate his play.
“There was bits and pieces here and there, flurries every once in a while earlier in the season," Trice said, "but ever since the Kobe situation, I feel like I've had to step up in a major way and try to produce more on both ends of the floor. That's been my goal.”
Wisconsin assistant coach Dean Oliver would know a thing or two about point guards. He played Big Ten ball at that position for Iowa from 1997-2001. In his senior season, the former Hawkeye led the conference in assists per game as well as assist-to-turnover ratio.
From Oliver's perspective, Trice's improvement has been gradual.
“You have ups and downs, as he has had, but he's been consistent," Oliver said. "You're starting to see more consistency of him seeing things before they happen. Also when he's coming back to huddles -- whether it's in practice or in the games -- he's seeing things and letting us know about things that I don't think he was seeing even last year or early on in this season. Just kind of reading the game and having a better feel.
"He's growing as a player. It's hard to see exactly when it's happening, but you're seeing it happen."
As Oliver stated, he believes Trice is also seeing things before they happen and knowing where to look.
"He kind of knows where to look," Oliver said. "He's taken a little more risks at times, and knowing which risks he’s supposed to take and which ones he probably shouldn't take. He's always constantly trying to improve. I think, just watching the film and things like that, he's always trying to improve, and you’re starting to see the improvement as far as finding guys, the timing and being on target with his passes. It means a lot.
"Guys make shots when you get them on time and on target, and he's doing a better job of that right now.”
Along with leading the team in assists, Trice currently ranks third on the team in points per game (9.6) behind Nate Reuvers and the departed King on 37.9% shooting. He has scored in double digits in 11 of Wisconsin's first 24 games -- including five of the last six contests -- and recorded a career-high 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting against Milwaukee on Dec. 21.
Trice has also stepped up his rebounding prowess, bringing down 4.3 boards per game this season. Once again, he acknowledged being aggressive, especially on the defensive end.
"I think that's just been a big thing where I can go in there and get four to six rebounds a game," Trice said. "If I just go in there and be aggressive towards it, and that's gone pretty well recently. That's been a goal of mine as well to get those numbers to creep up there so I'm going to continue to crash the glass."
Oliver credited Trice in always being a good rebounder, but he also complemented the awareness of his point guard in knowing when can do so.
"He doesn't have to box his man out a lot of times," Oliver said. "There's teams that have the point guard that just gets back on D. Knowing that, and then also just his awareness. His awareness is up defensively this year, especially lately. Having that awareness, not just for rebounding, but the next play as far as what's going on. Are you stunting? Are you sliding over to take a charge? But that awareness has helped him rebound better also."
On Saturday, Trice and Wisconsin (14-10 overall, 7-6 Big Ten) will face another talented point guard in Nebraska's Cam Mack (1:15 p.m. CT, BTN). The Husker currently ranks third in the conference in assists per game (6.5) behind Minnesota's Marcus Carr (6.7) and Michigan's Zavier Simpson (8.0).
Along with the aforementioned standouts, the Big Ten also boasts such point guards like Michigan State's Cassius Winston -- arguably the best at the position in the all of college basketball -- and Maryland's Anthony Cowan. With the talent in the conference, Oliver believes people have not realized how well Trice has performed, especially on that defensive end.
"I don't think everyone has recognized how well he's guarded guys, some really good players," Trice said. "If you look at their numbers when they played us, it wasn't the same. Now it’s not just him, it's a team defensive thing, but he has taken that challenge and done a great job, especially on the ball. His ball screen defense has improved.
"I think it really shows when it wasn't good. In the Minnesota game, he wasn't at his best, and it showed. But you look at all of our big wins, it showed in those also how well he played defensively. He definitely is, I think, overlooked, but that's part of being a point guard. You take the blame for the losses, and you don't get the credit for the wins. It's kind of part of being a point guard and being selfless.”
Has Trice himself felt overlooked?
"I feel like that's been a synopsis of my whole career," Trice said. "Not just here but in high school as well. It's been like that my whole life. It's just something that I think about, and it helps me be motivated and be dedicated to what I do. I just know that if I continue to work hard that my progress, my things will turn into success."