Finding the Right Pieces

The depth No.24 Wisconsin has in the front court goes without saying, while Jordan Taylor's role in the back court will be vital. So when the Badgers tip off the exhibition season against UW-La Crosse Saturday, UW Coach Bo Ryan will be looking at his younger players, primarily the freshmen, to find some depth.

MADISON - Consider the next two exhibition games a window to the future of Wisconsin basketball. Actually with the way practice has gone through the first few weeks, consider some of the weapons ready to use.

When No.24 Wisconsin tips off the exhibition season Saturday against UW-La Crosse, Badgers fans will get a glimpse of the improvement of senior Jon Leuer and how his time playing with Team USA has elevated his game, how junior Jordan Taylor reacts to being Wisconsin's full-time point guard and how role players like Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson are ready to step into the lineup.

Fans will also get to see Wisconsin's four member freshman class, a group that all could provide some type of health and relief for the front court, particularly freshmen guards Ben Brust and Josh Gasser.

"That Ben Brust is the fastest guy coming off screens that I've ever coached, and I've had some guys with a little bit of speed," Ryan said. "He's like a bullet.

"Josh Gasser is not 18 or 19, he's 21, 22. The way he sees the floor, his maturity … is something that can help us."

There are other options that Ryan is anxious to look at, primarily in the front court. Although the Badgers appear to be set with Leuer, seniors Tim Jarmusz and Keaton Nankivil and sophomores Mike Breuesewitz and Jared Berggren, the play of freshmen Evan Anderson and Duje Dukan have open some eyes.

"Anderson is more physical than we realized, which is great, and we still do not know whether he's going to red shirt or not," Ryan said. "You can play in the exhibition games, and then decide after those whether or not you're going to red shirt. And Duje is just, he's just a colt. He's going to be a very good player, and physically he's a little stronger than coming out of high school."

Berggren has been one of the steady contributors during the early portions of fall practice. During a refereed scrimmage last Saturday, Ryan boasted that Berggren had roughly 30 points, connecting on everything from three-point plays to three-pointers, as the sophomore has shown enough flashes to warrant a closer look.

"He's an element that people are going to have to get ready for," Ryan said of Berggren. "People know about Keaton Nankivil but Jared can score in the post more so than what we've been able to get the past few years in the post. Marcus Landry was our best post offensive player but we didn't have Marcus last year. We were a little shy scoring in the post.

"Some guys it was kind of recommended to them that they come back a little bit better in regards to scoring in the post. But Berggren, it will be hard to keep him off the floor."

Saturday's game also continues a welcoming trend of Ryan's teams playing exhibitions against in-state competition. In the last six seasons, Wisconsin has played 10 Division II or D-III schools from the state, with UW-La Crosse making it 11.

After decades of playing against good foreign exhibition teams, Ryan didn't like the trend college basketball was heading. The good exhibition teams led the way to AAU program having graduates of their programs playing, and wanted a lot of money in the process.

That led to the recommendation that schools play college teams in the exhibition games, which would cut the amount of foreign teams travel and playing a school that has an offensive set already in place with experience players that know how to operate it.

"What we decided to do was every year, at least for nine years, (is) play one school from the state conference (WIAC)," Ryan said. "People think it was because I had coached at Platteville. But basically we're a state university, why not play the other state universities, keep the money in the family, so to speak, and play each school one time, and then let everybody decide later what they think of it.

"Here's the thing about playing a UW-La Crosse as opposed to the teams that were thrown together, the AAU teams. They run an offense they've been running for years. They have a system and they play together. There's nothing on their agenda other than they're bringing their program, their team into the Kohl Center which is still the place in the state of Wisconsin where people want to play. High school kids want to get here for the state championship, college teams love coming in here. So it is something that promotes basketball in the state."

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