Voter Fraud

While picking a MVP on a team full of deserving MVPs might be difficult, Wisconsin's four freshmen deserve a closer look, especially with them being a vital part to UW's 2007-08 success.

DETROIT - If one were to cast a vote for team MVP on this year's edition of the Wisconsin basketball team, plenty of players would be deserving of votes.

Consensus first-team All-Big Ten Brian Butch, with his team-leading 12.4 points per game and nearly seven rebounds would garner a good percentage of the popular vote.

Sophomore point guard Trevon Hughes scoring 18 or more points eight times and quarterbacking the offense for the first time would be worthy of a vote of two.

Senior Michael Flowers and his defensive wonders that have shut down the likes of some of the best shooting guards in the conference has certainly proved his merit.

And don't overlook junior Joe Krabbenhoft either, who ranks in the top three in nearly every offensive or defensive category on the team and has turned in four double-doubles this season.

While all worthy candidates a tough pick to decide on, a group probably receiving no collective votes is a group of four freshmen, deciding to trade in their redshirt seasons for real-life game experience and in turn, push the starters on the scout team while learning the game for themselves, have been just as valuable to Wisconsin's success that a vote for MVP might not be so far fetched.

After all, if those four hadn't put on their work gloves and hard hat everyday, the Badgers might not be in position to make the school's third Elite Eight appearance since 2000.

"They have gone through a whole season and it is one of those situations where they aren't freshmen anymore," assistant coach Howard Moore said. "They have allowed themselves to buy into the system, the program and what Coach Ryan is selling. Now, they are starting to develop and get more of a familiarity with the things around them and are translating that to the scout team, which helps the team out as a whole."

That production the four Badger freshmen have brought to the scout team will be tested tonight when the No.3 Wisconsin takes on No.10 Davidson in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional at Ford Field.

While Davidson's Stephen Curry has gotten the brunt of the press and rightfully so (averaging 35 points per game in this year's tournament), the Wildcats possess a pair of forwards in Andrew Lovedale and Thomas Sandler that can quietly hurt their opponents.

That is why the past week freshmen Tim Jarmusz, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil have gotten real familiar with the pair of 6-foot-8 forwards, studying the duos tendencies in order to showcase them for the starting five.

"They have a couple of pretty good bigs that are real versatile and team players," Nankivil lauded. We've had a bunch of guys rotating in, imitating guys that have a pretty good effect on the game. It's our job to prepare the guys for (Davidson) and I think we did all right doing that"

With the incredible depth at the 4 and 5 positions (Butch, Gullikson, Landry, Krabbenhoft, Stiemsma), it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that at least two of the three recruits (Jarmusz, Leuer and Nankivil) would redshirt a season to bulk up and adapt to the college game.

When Leuer and Nankivil played against IPFW and Jarmusz four days later against Savannah State, it left many people scratching their heads, especially looking back now, with none of the trio averaging more than nine minutes per game.

"There's nothing you can do about it once the season starts," Nankivil said. "A lot of people said that to me and there's no way you can take those decisions back. I am completely comfortable with what I did and this year is an example as to the reason I came here. Everyone plays to win championships and I knew that we could win a lot of games here."

While the three have been a part of two conference championships this season, they have each been able to use small portions of their 15-minutes of fame in their first season – Leuer scored 25 points in a win against Michigan, Jarmusz has seen his minutes increase as the season has progressed (playing in 64 minutes the last 10 games) and Nankivil pulled down a career-high five rebounds in a win against Florida A&M.

But it's the work on the scout team that has really opened the player's eyes to what is expected of them at this level of basketball.

"I've learned that my game is not as good as it nearly needs to be yet," said Nankivil about what the scout team has taught him. "I have a long way to go before I can play at the level that I want to play. There's a whole bunch of things – hedging screens, chasing screens, all defensive things and putting the ball on the floor, shoot and post - that I need work on. Everything in my game needs to get better."

But while the tall trio prepare the Badger bigs for the Davison frontcourt, freshman Wquinton Smith has been the primarily person responsible for pestering Flowers and Hughes, helping the duo work on ball control, security and limiting the turnovers, results that usually have been transferred over to the hardwood.

Not bad for a player that made the team as a walk-on after going through an open tryout and earning a spot on the time because of that determination and energy.

"He comes to work everyday, brings his lunch pail and hard hat, and he's always here trying to make it hard for Trevon and Michael," Moore said. That's his job. That's his role to make it hard on those guys and work as hard as he can. That's how he contributes."

"To see a guy like Wquinton trying out a week into the season and what's he's been able to do now, it's like us," Nankivil added. "You pay your dues and everything works out."

While some would call it a wasted year playing garbage time off the bench, none of the four Badger freshmen would share that point of view. After all, they've had an indirect hand in the school-record 31 victories Wisconsin has achieved in 07-08 and another birth in the Sweet 16. Not bad to start a career.

"Even if guys aren't playing a lot, the things the absorb is so valuable and the experience they can gain from what's going on right now is going to so beneficial to them next year," assistant coach Greg Gard said. "The things they learn now will carry on when it comes time to prepare for next year."

The only thing about that is that the scout team is not really for next year to begin quite yet.


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