That’s all it took in practice for the Wisconsin men’s basketball season to be altered.
While they occurred on separate occasions and in separate practices, the Badgers will begin their nonconference schedule without two of their returning starters due to a pair of injuries to senior forward Mike Bruesewitz and junior guard Josh Gasser.
Bruesewitz suffered a deep laceration to his lower right leg—one that went down to the bone and needed 50 stitches to repair—in a freak collision with the basket standard. The high-energy, glue-player for head coach Bo Ryan’s team will most likely miss the first 2-4 weeks of play.
But his injury isn’t the most serious one. Or the one that causes the biggest ripple effect for Wisconsin.
Gasser blew out his ACL going up for a routine layup Oct. 27 in practice and will be forced to use his redshirt season this year to recover from one of the most devastating injuries in sports.
It was a devastating blow for the Badgers, as Ryan and the team were looking to Gasser to fill in the void left by former-point guard and All-American Jordan Taylor, a two-year starter and the most efficient point guard in NCAA history (his 3.01 career assist-to-turnover ratio shattered the record of 2.70 held by UTEP’s Julyan Stone).
Ryan had given Gasser high praise during the offseason, saying that he believed the junior guard had taken the next step to elevate his game, spending extra hours a week in the gym working on his ball handling and working on his overall offensive skill set, preparing to take over increased responsibilities as the veteran leader of an otherwise young backcourt.
“I pretty much worked my tail off to get to that position and coach Ryan rewarded me with it and then [the injury] happened,” Gasser said.
Gasser also pointed out that one of the hardest things was not being able to play alongside the Wisconsin senior class for its final year.
“I think the biggest thing is I built such a great relationship with the seniors on and off the court, especially on the court. I was really excited to get to play with them and help them reach their goal because this is their last go-around and to not be out there is just killing me.”
The New Guard(s): George Marshall and Traevon Jackson
With no Gasser or Bruesewitz on the court, the Badgers now scramble to find the appropriate mix in their starting lineup and rotation off the bench. But, two underclassmen will likely play a huge role for Ryan in a season without Gasser.
In the backcourt, redshirt freshman George Marshall is primed to take over point guard duties for UW. Marshall, a talented athlete with quick feet and a lethal pull-up jumper, had the luck of playing scout team and guarding Jordan Taylor all of last year while practicing with the Badgers in his redshirt season. Taylor often gushed about the potential of Marshall, and after watching a few practices and the Red/White Scrimmage it wasn’t hard to tell why.
The speed of Marshall’s feet makes him one of the toughest defenders to go against, especially on-ball, which will make him a perfect fit in a Ryan defensive scheme for the Badgers that puts an emphasis on man-defense, Marshall seems an easy call at the one-spot in the starting lineup.
Also slated to receive a drastic increase in minutes is sophomore Traevon Jackson. The son of Ohio State basketball legend Jim Jackson, Traevon largely rode the bench last year in his freshman campaign (only playing 17 games), taking the backseat to a backcourt rotation that included Taylor, Gasser and Ben Brust and former Badger Rob Wilson.
But now with Marshall and Brust slated to start, Jackson will prove an essential piece in Ryan’s rotation off the bench.
A physically gifted guard who can play either the one or two spot, Jackson has a body type that is reminiscent of the departed Taylor. He also showed a strong pull-up jumper of his own in the Red-White scrimmage, scoring 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field.
The talent of these two guards, along with Brust still in the backcourt, gives Ryan little doubt that his offense won’t miss a beat trying to replace Taylor and Gasser’s presence.
“Well the nice part about now being in my 41st year of coaching, when people say replace other people, I don’t get as alarmed or excited or nervous,” Ryan said. “It is amazing how young men step up and I have all the faith in the world that that’s going to happen with this group.”
Ryan even said the offense may change with his new personnel at the guard position, but will still rely on the same basic fundamentals and disciplines that have led to the Badgers’ successes in his tenure.
“What we’re doing now with our offense with our ball movement, it’s more scoring off of action away from the ball than maybe on the ball, but we’re still getting some stuff done with the ball, off of ball screens…back-doors, just basketball—read and react, read and react. It’s still about taking care of the ball, still about getting good shots and I think the players that we have will continue to do that.”
But, with all three of UW’s potential guards in the rotation never having started a game in their careers, there may be some growing pains for the Badgers along the way in the early part of the nonconference slate.
Berggren, Evans must step up
With the loss of vocal leader Gasser in the backcourt, the Badgers frontcourt must now take the brunt of the weight of carrying this team not only with its leadership, but with its offensive prowess as well.
“Now it’s my time to step up and have more of a leadership role,” redshirt senior and center Jared Berggren said. “ Trying to be more vocal is one thing I’m working on, trying to encourage teammates, push teammates, get on guys if they’re taking shortcuts or do something wrong, but at the same time never being too negative with anyone. That’s the main thing I’m trying to accomplish.”
Ryan has been known in his time at UW to develop raw or lesser players who other major Division One programs pass over in recruiting, and nowhere is that theme more relevant than in this year’s starting forward-center combination
Perhaps the x-factor of this team, returning starter and redshirt senior forward Ryan Evans (36 starts, 11 points per game and 6.75 rebounds per game in 2011-12) is the mantra of improvement. A raw, athletic specimen from Phoenix, Ariz. as an incoming freshman, Evan’s incredible vertical leaps and dunks have always been there, but his smoothed-out, more consistent mid-range jumper has not. Perfected over long hours in the gym and four seasons in the program, Evans will look to improve on his junior campaign where he was named a consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention selection.
And while Evans may be the x-factor, the rock of this team is Berggren (36 starts, 10.5 ppg, 4.89 rpg and 1.67 blocks per game in 2011-12). Also a 2012 honorable mention for All-Big Ten, Berggren steadily improved in all aspects of his game during his junior season alone, including his shot from long-range. Perhaps Berggren’s ability to stretch the floor offensively was best on display in last season’s loss to Syracuse in the Sweet 16, where the big-man posted 17 points on 3-for-3 three-point shooting, despite being limited to just 25 minutes of action because of foul trouble.
And for Berggren and this senior group, the loss was a motivating source for their offseason push coming into 2012-13.
“You never forget about it,” Berggren said. “It’s obviously something that’s pretty ingrained in your mind and its going to be forever, which I don’t think is a bad thing. Don’t forget about it, use it as motivation. Think back on that feeling of losing and I think that’s something that drives every competitor and every athlete, you want to win and you remember that feeling of losing and it motivates you and drives you to be better.”