While the season may just be warming up for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, expectations for what type of team this year’s squad will offer have already begun to surface at the proverbial office water coolers across the state.
Unlike years past, when the Badgers’ success rested largely on the shoulders of the experienced veterans on the team, this year’s edition of UW basketball may be a bit different. All three of the guards in the starting rotation for Wisconsin shared zero starts heading into the 2012-13 season, leaving a huge question mark for the Badgers’ potential this year.
Sure, everything has gone as planned so far this season since the loss of junior guard Josh Gasser in the preseason — freshman guard George Marshall looked good in his first regular season game, setting the tone early with the first three points of the game. In addition, junior guard Ben Brust scored 14 points on 2-2 shooting from the arc in the same contest. But how much does it really say about a team that it can win by 40 against a Southeastern Louisiana team that finished 12-17 with no ranked teams on its résumé a season ago?
While much of the focus had been centered on Marshall and sophomore guard Traevon Jackson, and rightfully so — the two guards will be responsible for running the Badgers’ offense this season — Badger basketball fans mustn’t forget about Brust, too.
After all, he might just be the biggest X-factor on the team.
Entering the season, Brust has the most experience of the three, as he contributed through the sixth-man role for UW a season ago.
Following a freshman campaign that saw him average just three minutes of game time, in 2011-12, Brust earned at least 20 minutes in 24 of the Badgers’ 36 games.
Still, despite averaging 7.3 points per game, Brust was often one of the most frustrating players on the court for Wisconsin last year.
Serving as a microcosm for his entire 2011-12 season, in the period of less than a week Brust scored a career-high 25 points against UNLV on 7-7 shooting from behind the arc, only to lose his shooting touch three days later. His 1-9 performance from the field and 1-5 from three-point range in a five-point effort against UW-Milwaukee was as surprising as his UNLV outburst.
If there is one thing UW’s backcourt will need most, especially with the departure of Jordan Taylor and his 3.01 assist-to-turnover ratio, it’s consistency. With new point guards in Marshall and Jackson, Wisconsin is bound to experience growing pains at the point guard position this year, especially while the season is still young.
As a result, it will be Brust’s job as the veteran guard on the team to guide his younger teammates through the tough moments they approach throughout the season.
If Sunday’s regular-season opener is any indication, it might finally be a role Brust is capable of fulfilling.
While it’s hard to make any definitive conclusions against a cupcake opponent like Southeastern Louisiana, performances like Brust’s 14 points combined with 11 rebounds will need to happen more often than not for the Badgers — especially if they hope to help earn Bo Ryan his 12th straight fourth-place finish or better in the Big Ten.
If Sunday’s statistics weren’t enough for you to make judgments on Ben Brust, then you need not look further than Wednesday night, as the Badgers begin their difficult nonconference slate — one that should provide the Badger newbies with plenty of experience by the start of their Big Ten campaign in January.
As a result, you can expect Wednesday’s trip to Gainesville, Fla., to play the No. 10 Florida Gators to be a good barometer for the type of Brust fans can expect to see this winter.
Playing away from home for the first time this season, the Gators will test the mettle of all three of Wisconsin’s unproven guards.
After last year’s stalwart defensive guards, Gasser — a 2012 all-Big Ten Defensive Team honoree — and Taylor — a 2011 all-Big Ten Defensive team honoree — led the team to the best scoring defense in the country, only time will tell if the combination of Brust, Marshall and Jackson are capable of doing the same. They will be put to the test early with the task of defending one of the better offensive guards in the country in Florida senior Kenny Boynton.
Regardless of whether you believe Wisconsin is as good as they were last year, Wednesday’s game will go a long way in defining the type of year Brust and UW may have in store for Badger fans.
Nick is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. Think someone else might be the biggest X-factor on the team this year? Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at him @npdaniels31.