Leuer displays All-American potential as Badgers roll over hapless Mavericks; search for second guard continues
MADISON, Wis. - Jon Leuer recorded his second double-double in as many games and this time no one could say it was because the opposing team lacked size.
Playing against a Minnesota State team that featured several players familiar with Leuer from his high school days near the Twin Cities, the Badgers' senior forward showed them exactly why he's on scholarship at the University of Wisconsin.
Leuer scored 25 points, including 19 in the first half, and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Badgers rolled to a 93-59 win in their final exhibition game of the season, in front of an announced crowd of 16,961 at the Kohl Center. The most impressive aspect of his performance was his versatility; he accumulated his points with an array of dunks, layups, hook shots, mid-range jumpers, free throws and a three-pointer.
Perhaps the best compliment came from Mavericks head coach Matt Margenthaler.
"You don't usually say this as an opposing coach, but he's fun to watch," Margenthaler said. "He is the real deal. He is unbelievable in the things he can do. You just don't find guys like him. It was a mismatch from the tip."
Watching Leuer makes it easy to forget that he sustained a wrist injury that kept him out of nine games last season. In addition to returning just in time for Wisconsin's stretch run in the spring, he has shown no lingering effects from an ailment that could have made a much longer impact.
Instead, Leuer finishes the Badgers' brief preseason as their leading scorer, averaging 20 points per game, as well as their top rebounder, snagging 10.5 boards per contest.
He got to the free throw line more than any other UW player in the two exhibition games, going 7-of-9. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan liked what he saw.
"He had a lot of different types of moves," Ryan said. "He did about everything he could have offensively. He hit from outside, inside, got to the free throw line. He looked pretty good."
Despite the relatively weak competition, it is hard to envision a more consistent matchup problem for opposing teams than Leuer. He is a true hybrid, a big man who runs the floor, plays a ton of minutes, shoots well from all distances and can pound defenders down low.
The Badgers will go as far as he takes them.
Call out the guard(s)
It's a good thing for Wisconsin that Leuer is in such rare form because he is able to mask the issue of depth at the guard position.
Consider this statistic: A total of six different guards not named Jordan Taylor combined to score 19 points all night. That figure is generous because it counts Ryan Evans and Tim Jarmusz as guards, even though they normally function as forwards. Without those two, Wquinton Smith (who started), Ben Brust, Brett Valentyn and Josh Gasser produced 14 points among themselves.
In a game in which Wisconsin totaled 93 points, that's not sufficient production from the guards alongside (and behind) Taylor. Ryan made clear after the game that junior Rob Wilson has been "shut down" with a hamstring injury for the time being. The team needs to hope he makes it back to full strength soon.
"It's like anything else; you just have to move on," Ryan said. "He's just rehabbing and trying to get himself back. It means more minutes for some other guys right now."
Ryan thinks it's silly to bring up the fact that one of his starting guards in this game, Smith, is a walk-on and he's right. But it is reasonable to say that six points in 23 minutes on the court is not enough production from that position. While it may seem laughable to gripe about offensive output on a night when the team nearly hit the century mark, evaluating individual and positional play is exactly what this "laugher" of a game was designed for.
"[Smith] gave us what he has given us since he first came here as a walk-on: energy," Ryan said. "Defensively, he's very good. He's used to defending Trevon Hughes, so there's no one out there that's going to shock him."
Defense is paramount, but as the regular season begins and film demonstrating Leuer's proficiency becomes more abundant, the Badgers will increasingly face teams that are better equipped to limit his production. It is important that there be legitimate offensive options besides Taylor and Keaton Nankivil. With Wilson sidelined and no breakout performances from the players behind him as of yet, the second guard position remains up for grabs.
Mum's the word on redshirts
One player who got an extended look in both exhibitions and is almost sure to be part of the patchwork rotation at that spot is freshman Josh Gasser. The Port Washington native saw 17 minutes of floor time against the Mavericks, far and away the most of any Badger rookie.
Gasser received 37 minutes of action this preseason, compared with 19 for Ben Brust, 15 for Duje Dukan and just four for Evan Anderson. He averaged a respectable 6.5 points in the two contests and looked comfortable on the floor. Gasser is probably the freshman most ready to contribute and, given the shakiness of the guard spot with Wilson's injury, it would be surprising if he didn't.
When asked after the game who would redshirt, Ryan gave a great answer, saying essentially that if a guy goes through the season and doesn't play, then he has redshirted. Based on the exhibition season alone, it is safe to assume that Gasser will play and Anderson will sit. Brust and Dukan are question marks, but it would not be surprising to see Brust play and Dukan take a year.
On an administrative note, the four members of Wisconsin's 2011 recruiting class officially inked their commitments to play for the university today.
There were no surprises as Westerville South (Westerville, OH) combo guard Traevon Jackson, Brooks College Preparatory (Chicago, IL) point guard George Marshall, Benet Academy (Lisle, IL) center Frank Kaminsky and Jefferson (Cedar Rapids, IA) forward Jarrod Uthoff all signed as planned.
Ryan expressed his satisfaction with the group.