By the time Wisconsin faces a ranked team — ironically enough, it will be No. 1 North Carolina — later this month, how much will we really know about the Badgers?
The question is scary because the answer will almost assuredly be not much. UW heads to Chapel Hill Nov. 30 for the headliner of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and its four games prior will feature opponents like Colgate, Wofford, Missouri-Kansas City and Bradley. Consequently, it is fair to expect the Badgers’ non-conference season to unfold as usual — games at the Kohl Center will feature an uncharacteristically high number of points (like Saturday’s 85 against Kennesaw State), and everyone will be eager to see how Wisconsin will respond on the road. Sure is a familiar theme for the program, right?
Nevertheless, UW’s season-opener against Kennesaw State cultivated some interesting developments for a team needing to compensate for the graduations of Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz. Common preseason expectations held that the offense would be more post-oriented, as all three of those forwards excelled on the perimeter. This year’s bigs, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz, follow in that tradition as well, but the need for increased production in increased roles figures to push them closer to the hoop at times. Ryan Evans, though he is listed as a guard/forward and seems to get many starts at the 3-spot, also is a more comfortable offensive presence closer to the hoop.
Brust, Gasser unveil new backcourt
By the end of the Badgers’ 85-31 trouncing of the Owls, a slightly different picture than the expected interior-heavy attack had unfolded. Sophomore guards Ben Brust and Josh Gasser tied for the team-lead with 14 points, while star senior point guard Jordan Taylor finished with seven — though he did add a game-high seven assists.
Neither of the performances by Brust and Gasser was startling, though they were very welcome as head coach Bo Ryan looks to see what he can glean from the non-conference slate. Brust is widely expected to be one of the first players off the bench (he was the first Saturday), and Gasser is coming off a record-setting freshman season in which he finished fourth on the team in scoring (5.9 points per game). Despite earning limited playing time last season, Brust developed a reputation as a lethal outside shooter with a knack for getting himself open, especially coming off ball screens.
Indeed, Brust was on point from behind the arc Saturday in sinking four of his eight three-pointers. His only other basket came on a layup halfway through the first half, when, after a KSU turnover, Brust led UW’s fastbreak with a teammate on each side of the court. Seeing just two Owl defenders spread out a bit front of him, Brust accelerated, split directly through them and finished with a slick layup. The play, largely lost in the ridiculousness of the matchup (e.g., Kennesaw State scored just eight points in the first half), revealed another element that Brust can provide off the bench, outside of simply an outside shooter.
Gasser’s points came mainly from behind the arc as well, as his 4-for-4 shooting day came entirely from three-point territory. He added two free throws late in the first half, and also added four assists and four rebounds.
A first glimpse at the freshmen
Beyond noting the rotations and first players off the bench, the first look at the freshmen is essentially the only other significant aspect of these early-season contests. The Badgers got a look at two Saturday afternoon, guard Traevon Jackson and forward Frank Kaminsky.
Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound Westerville, Ohio native, appears to have strength and offensive skills beyond that of the typical freshman. He’s also the son of former Ohio State great and 14-year NBA player Jim Jackson. He saw 13 minutes of playing time against Kennesaw State, behind only the starting five, Brust and senior guard/forward Rob Wilson (15 minutes). Jackson finished with 1 for 2 from the field, the lone shot coming from behind the arc, and two rebounds.
Kaminsky, meanwhile, played 10 minutes, scored five points on 2-for-3 shooting, and pulled down five rebounds. At 6-foot-11, 230 pounds, the Lisle, Ill. native is expected to be another young contributor that has a precociously high basketball I.Q.
The other two freshmen that might see the court this season, guard George Marshall and forward Jarrod Uthoff, did not Saturday. After the game, Ryan said they both came very close to seeing the floor, and any redshirt decisions will not be made for a while. With the very, very early rotation seeming to be set with the starting five and then Brust, Wilson, Jackson, sophomore forward Duje Dukan and Kaminsky, they likely face an uphill battle to see minutes beyond any quick looks Ryan might give them in these non-conference games.
Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. Have any early impressions of the Badgers? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @BHeraldSports for all the latest Badgers news.