Thursday, October 31, 2013

The 2013-14 Season Begins: Wisconsin vs. UW-Platteville

So basketball season is back.  I attended Wisconsin’s exhibition game against UW-Platteville last night, and I want to jot down some thoughts about it.  I don’t want anyone to take this as a suggestion that I’m going to be regularly blogging about basketball again. As previous years have shown, I’m way too lazy to do that anymore. (Though I may, from time to time, pen an occasional piece this season for a friend with a more broadly-focused sports blog.  More on that if and when it occurs.) 

But I still like to crank out the occasional thought, and what better time to do so than after the first game of the season?  Seeing as Wisconsin has a lot of new faces this year, I figured I’d skip over making all of the obvious broad game points that everyone is likely making today (Wisconsin looks like it will play more up-tempo this year, the refs are going to call a lot of touch fouls this year, and Platteville hung with the Badgers for way longer than the final score would indicate).  Instead, I just want to quickly go down the roster and give my reactions to each of the players after this one meaningless game.  Since the roster sheets were ordered by player number last night, that’s the order in which you’re getting my reactions.  Like I said, I’m incredibly lazy, so just deal with it.  Here are my thoughts on all 17 players (Really?  There are that many guys on the roster?  When did this turn into UWM?) On the Wisconsin roster:

Ben Brust:
It was tough to get excited about Ben Brust, the team’s top long-range bomber, when the Badgers couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their lives during the first half.  Of course, most of those misses didn’t actually come from Brust, so it’s unfair to lay the blame on him for the first half futility, but my mind still wants to do so.  In any event, I was mildly taken aback while exiting the Kohl Center when the PA announcer indicated that Brust had led the team with 20 points.  It was a quiet 20, most of which came in the second half when Wisconsin was rolling.  I suspect that lots of fans are looking at this year’s guard depth and pondering who Brust’s graduation will create opportunity for next year, but it’s probably worth remembering for this year that Ben Brust is still really good.

Jordan Smith: One of two players in street clothes last night, I was impressed with myself for being able to figure out who Smith was prior to looking at my roster sheet last night.  I don’t know if he was injured, redshirting, or the equipment manager just forgot to order a uniform for him.  I also don’t really care, so long as Smith’s happy, as he’s a walk-on who’s about the 9th best guard on the team. 

George Marshall: Marshall was, as expected, one of the first players off the bench.  I think I’m going to grow to like him this year.  Last season, he was pressed into duty a bit early by Josh Gasser’s injury, and it showed.  Given the chance to take the point guard spot and run with it, Marshall was mistake-prone and ultimately ceded the job to Traevon Jackson.  In his limited minutes last night, though, he looked much more consistent and, to no one’s surprise, was the most adept of any of the guards at getting into the lane.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he looks this reliable all year.

Aaron Moesch: The last player off the bench, Moesh pulled in one rebound in his minute of play.  That’s about the best you can ask for from a freshman walk-on.

Nigel Hayes: There were two players that jumped off of the page at you last night, and the most prominent one was Nigel Hayes.  I’ve been reading during the pre-season about how Hayes and fellow freshman forward Vitto Brown are physically ready to play in the Big Ten.  I can confirm that the writers making that point were not kidding.  Hayes is every bit of the 6'7", 250 lbs. that he’s listed at.  And last night he showed a strong nose for the ball, hauling in offensive rebound after offensive rebound.  Hayes is physically gifted and plays extra-hard when he’s on the floor.  He’ll see plenty of minutes this year.  And by the time he’s a senior, he’s going to be the favorite player of plenty of Badger fans.

Jordan Hill: The lanky freshman saw limited minutes last night, and air-balled a three-pointer.  He looked like he belonged, though, and on a team that didn’t have five guards ahead of him on the depth chart, I could certainly see him playing.  As things stand, put his name in the back of your mind for now. 

Traevon Jackson: I’m always going to be annoyed by Jackson’s weird-looking shot, however he’s quickly developed into a classic Bo Ryan player that makes very few mistakes.  Unfortunately, this also makes him one of the least exciting players on the floor, so I didn’t spend a lot of time watching him.  However like an offensive lineman in football, if I don’t notice a Bo Ryan player, that probably means he’s doing his job and doing it well.

Duje Dukan: Dukan was the first player off the bench last night.  This was partly a function of him likely being a key sub this year, and partly a function of Bo Ryan pulling Sam Dekker after he failed to properly get a hand up on an opposing player’s shot.  Either way, Dukan displayed a decent shot, and generally showed much more confidence than he has in the past.  While I recognize that the fact that he had mono last year was a major consideration in him choosing to redshirt, I think we can all be happy that he’ll be spending his junior year contributing to a team that can use his talents instead of sitting on the bench behind three firmly entrenched seniors.  See--sometimes contracting a pesky viral infection can be a good thing!

Sam Dekker: Hands down, my pick for most improved during the offseason has to go to Sam Dekker’s haircut.  I don’t know who his new barber is, but I’d like to give that person a high-five.  When Dekker emerged onto the floor for warm-ups last night, he no longer looked like a dopey kid from Sheboygan whose parents cut his hair.  Instead, he looked like a guy that you could someday see walking across a stage in a nice suit to shake David Stern’s hand at the NBA draft.  His game?  I can’t offer anything new there.  It’s common knowledge that he’s a special offensive player and that he’s prone to occasional defensive lapses, and that’s still the case.  Dekker should again be awesome this year, though, and finally he won’t look like a rube while he’s being awesome.

Josh Gasser: It was outstanding to see Josh Gasser return from his knee injury last night, though it was tough to get a sense of where he’s at.  Gasser was never a player known for his explosiveness or remarkable quickness, so Josh Gasser with a knee brace looked remarkably similar to pre-injury Josh Gasser.  He did have an impressive moment where he drove the lane and switched hands in the air before banking in a layup, but mostly he was just consistent old Josh.  I’m ecstatic to have him back, though, as he’s the team’s top leader and calming influence. It should also be noted that during a timeout where the Jumbotron featured old pictures of all each of the players on the Badger roster dressed up for Halloween as kids, Gasser had easily the best costume.  When a 10-year-old boy is willing to dress up as Marge Simpson for Halloween, you should know that great things are coming for him someday.

Bronson Koenig: After seeing Bronson Koenig display his flashy game in high school, I commented to one friend that part of me was disappointed to see him going to Wisconsin, where his flair would be reigned in.  That was certainly the case last night, though I was pleased that you could still see some wheels churning in his head, leaving open the potential to see his creativity on display sometime in the future. Koenig looks the part, and spent a fair portion of his time on the floor running the point.  He’s definitely the fifth guard in the rotation right now, so it remains to be seen how much floor time he’ll see.  But he’ll be more than up to the challenge when he’s out there.  He may have to gut out a year of limited minutes, or he may eventually force his way into the regular rotation by season’s end, but either way, get ready to watch his talent fully unleashed next season. 

Vitto Brown: The fact that two well-built 6'8"ish freshmen from Ohio joined the Badger roster this year makes comparisons between the two inevitable, so I’m not going to avoid it.  Based solely on last night, Vitto Brown looks like Nigel Hayes Lite.  His build is slightly smaller, he plays with slightly less tenacity, and he looks slightly more lost and freshman-like when he’s on the floor.  I recognize that putting it this way makes Brown sound bad, but the reality is that Hayes is really freaking good, and that Brown is just a half step away from being just as freaking good.  That said, of the freshmen expected to contribute this year, I suspect that Brown will contribute the least.  He’s going to be a key cog at some point down the road, though.

Evan Anderson: I’ve heard talk that Anderson looked good in the scrimmage that was open to the public over the weekend, and that he may log minutes this year.  He was nonetheless the last scholarship player off the bench last night.  Nice a kid as he may be, I’m relieved that he still seems unlikely to see meaningful minutes.

Zak Showalter: It will likely be tough for someone as competitive as Showalter to spend his season redshirting, as he announced last week that he would do.  He appears to have embraced the decision so far, though, and I cannot think of a player better suited to serve in the “Master of Handshakes” role at the end of the player introduction line at the start of games.

Zach Bohannon: Bohannon rarely looks all that great when he’s on the floor, because he’s typically the least naturally gifted of the players out there.  Last night against D-3 opposition that was not the case, and I must admit that he looked pretty awesome.  I don’t necessarily think that this will translate into anything during the season, but it did give me pause to wonder just how good Bohannon would look if he regularly played against players that he’s more talented than.  

Riley Dearring: When the Badgers recruited a dude named “Riley” from Minnetonka, Minnesota, I just assumed that he was the whitest guy on the planet.  Last night I learned that Riley Dearring is actually a black guy, and not a super-pasty white dude that likes to wear sweaters.  As to his actual play, Dearing is buried on the depth chart, and along with fellow freshman Jordan Hill, tossed up a three-point shot that failed to hit any part of the scoring apparatus.  He looked fine in his limited minutes, though, and is basically just a victim of having a lot of really good players in front of him right now.  If he doesn’t redshirt this year, he’ll probably be kicking himself a few years down the road when he realizes that he sacrificed a year of eligibility in order to play a total of 8 minutes of garbage time during his freshman year.

Frank Kaminsky: In discussing Nigel Hayes, I noted that two players stood out last night.  Kaminsky was the other one.  He was excellent from the opening tip, during a first half when very few Wisconsin players could be classified as “excellent.”  He displayed some actual post moves inside, blocked a handful of shots, and even led a fastbreak at one point, finishing strong and converting a layup while getting fouled.  To be fair, I suspect that Kaminsky won’t be blocking shots with such regularity once he’s playing against D-1 players, but that doesn’t erase the fact that he was stellar in most ways last night.  I’ve never been a giant Frank Kaminsky fan (other than loving the fact that his name makes him sound like a grizzled veteran Chicago cop), but I might just come around on him this year.  He won’t be an all-time great or anything, but he’s going to be a key cog this year–and not just by default, as I had originally expected.

So as you can see, I’m enthusiastic about things at first glance.  Here’s looking forward to the real games in a few weeks, and to getting my first glimpse at Marquette and UWM in the near future.  Finally, the season is upon us!

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