Wisconsin vs. Minnesota State: Starting the Season Off Right
Ah, the first game of the year. Last night I had the opportunity to head to the Kohl Center for Wisconsin’s exhibition game against Minnesota State. Joining me for the evening was my good friend Samip, who I watched many a game with back in college, and who happened to be in Madison already on business. So I didn’t get the fun car ride to Madison with Samip, but we did enjoy the game, as well as a quick pre-game drink. It felt good to be back at the Kohl Center. Thoughts on night #1 of my season below:
1) It was a bizarre starting lineup for the Badgers last night. As expected, Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil took up three of the starting spots, but the remaining two spots unexpectedly went to Mike Bruesewitz and walk-on guard Wquinton Smith. I try not to read too much into the minutes that get doled out in exhibition games, as Bo Ryan tends to play around with things during the preseason (indeed, he had almost every conceivable combination of players on the floor at some point last night), but one can’t help but think that it speaks volumes about what Ryan thinks about Bruesewitz and Smith that each received a start tonight.
2) Aside from his being in the starting lineup, Wquinton Smith logging major minutes was one of the surprises of the night. Some of Smith’s time undoubtedly came because Rob Wilson was sidelined for the night with a hamstring issue. However, he logged more minutes than every other guard on the team besides Jordan Taylor. Smith acquitted himself nicely, though, and one wonders if the unthinkable is possible and a walk-on may log a few minutes here and there for a very good Badger team. Based on how he was used tonight, it’s tough not to think that Smith will be in the mix along with Josh Gasser for backing up the guard spots.
3) I’m advocating that Mike Bruesewitz be given the opportunity to start every home game this season. It’s not because he played well (though he did), and it’s not because of his gigantic mop of red hair that’s sure to make him a fan favorite this year. No, it’s because he had the goofiest set of expressions ever on his face when the video of him for player introductions was shown on the Kohl Center scoreboard. I’m still trying to figure out if Bruesewitz was just messing around of if he just generally looks sort of goofy.
4) The player that I was most intrigued to see last evening was Josh Gasser, the freshman guard generally thought to be most likely to see minutes at the backup guard spots. I had seen Gasser play once in high school and was generally not blown away. That was the case last night, as Gasser saw some minutes, but did nothing overly exciting. But I suspect that this is part of why Bo Ryan likes Gasser–much like Tim Jarmusz (though I would argue that Gasser has a bit more upside than Jarmusz), Gasser isn’t going to wow you with spectacular passes or steals, but he’s going to do everything pretty much right and not screw anything up. Who knows what this year holds for Gasser, but I’m pretty sure that we’ll all love him by the time he’s a junior.
5) As I noted a couple of days ago, I’m not a guy that’s going to go out of his way to defend Tim Jarmusz. That said, Jarmusz proved his worth to me on one play tonight when he pointed at Jordan Taylor and told Jared Berggren to set a ball screen. Moments later, Berggren obeyed Jarmusz’s command and Taylor got free for a sweet jump shot.
6) Ryan Evans fouled out in 11 minutes of play. Ouch. To be fair, it was a tightly called game, but it was nonetheless a rough night for the hard-working sophomore.
7) I’ve been oddly slow to warm to Jon Leuer, but his 19 first half points in limited minutes may have finally brought me around. Leuer can score from anywhere on the floor. And while he embarrassed Minnesota-Mankato less than he did UW-LaCrosse a few nights ago (I watched a short portion of the replay of that game on my DVR, and saw Leuer toss down four dunks, all of which involved him putting an impressive move on his defender), he still generally had his way. Even more interesting, Leuer displayed a few of tricky, behind-the-head passes to teammates, who caught them every time. It’s one thing to throw a fancy pass, but it’s another thing when you can actually get your teammates to catch it. Leuer just seems to have everything going his way right now.
8) One complaint on the night–during the halftime kids’ hoop dunk contest, contestant number two, Isaac from Janesville got totally robbed when he was not chosen by the crowd as the winner. Isaac, who could have been no more than 9-10 years old, was bested by contestant number three (presumably his younger brother or friend). While I’ll give you that it was funny when the smaller contestant number three ripped down the rim with his dunk, young Isaac had actually asked contestant number three to kneel down in front of the hoop and then jumped over him for his dunk. When you’re 9 years old and using human props already, there’s really no way that you should lose.
9) I enjoyed J.P. Gavinski’s thunderous dunk during garbage time (this was perhaps the last time that I’ll ever get to see him play live). And it only felt appropriate the Gavinski threw down at the exact moment that I was commenting to Samip that it was uncanny with the physical transformations of some of Gavinski’s teammates that he himself had developed almost no muscle tone during his four previous years on campus.
10) Former LaCrosse Aquinas standout Jimmy Whitehead is on the Minnesota State roster. I was only reminded that I vaguely knew who Whitehead was after looking him up on my roster sheet to see who the guy with the most awkward looking shot ever was.
11) While the Badgers didn’t exactly look to be in early season form, the cheerleaders sort of did. There were a few mildly nervous moments endured while watching their less-than-totally-clean lifts during timeouts. One can only assume that in 4-5 games, there will be much less reason to fear one of them suffering a horrific fall.
12) He’s been relegated to the bench for a couple of years, but after seeing him play some minutes last night, I still really like Jared Berggren, and my positive impression of him is based on the same thing that drew me to him two years ago–he likes contact down low. These days it seems like most guys that are 6'10" want to show off their ability to put the ball on the floor and take long three-point shots. So it’s refreshing to see a big guy that looks at home banging with opponents on the blocks. Berggren is able to take the occasional three-point shot now, but it’s not his primary game, and he looks like he’d rather be down low. And he might be the only Badger that I can say truly loves being near the baseline.
13) Duje Dukan saw some brief action last night and when he entered the game I simply looked at my friend Samip and noted “Good God, is he skinny.” Indeed, while I had heard some noise about how skinny Dukan’s frame is, it was an entirely different thing to see in person. I’m still not quite sure if his astounding appearance is due to him actually being skinny or his teammates having added so much muscle during their years in the program. After all, I was commenting about how skinny Dukan was while he was standing next to Jon Leuer, who was the guy that everyone talked about as being insanely thin three years ago. Clearly that’s not the case now.
And with the 93-59 dismantling of the Mavericks in the books, I headed back to Milwaukee with a smile on my face and an extended post-game show on the radio. Well, not right away actually. A word to the wise–if you get a craving for Babcock Hall ice cream and want to pick up a couple pints on the way home, they no longer sell it at the Hilldale Sentry, so it’s not worth the drive out there. I went home with an empty cooler and that side-trip extended my night a bit with no tangible benefit. I guess I should have anticipated that some things would change in the seven years since I’ve lived in Madison...