With the men's basketball regular season opener looming tomorrow afternoon at the Kohl Center, this is the time of year when the term "redshirt" becomes a hot buzz word. Redshirting has been fairly common at Wisconsin under Bo Ryan. At least one player from every class from 2002 to 2006 took the extra year. That includes both Alando Tucker and Jason Chappell redshirting as sophomores in '03 along with freshman Brian Butch.
Since then, the practice has become an "every other year" occurrence. No one redshirted in '07 or '09, but there were a couple in '08 (Ryan Evans & Jared Berggren) and '10 (Evan Anderson). The 2011 class would be in line for no redshirts if that holds true, yet that feels strange for a four-man class that grows to five if you include walk-on Jordan Smith. Still, none of this year's freshmen have indicated that they will seek a redshirt season, which may speak to the strength and diversity of the group.
One scrimmage, one exhibition and a handful of practices are not really enough to judge the rookies on. Despite their skill, however, one thing is clear: they are just as inconsistent as any other group of freshmen.
Jarrod Uthoff weighs just 200 pounds, making him an ideal redshirt candidate -- especially since we knew he was one of the most skilled players on the team. However, Uthoff was the talk of Media Day and drew comparisons to Josh Gasser for his basketball IQ. He was the only freshman to start the Red/White Scrimmage, when he donned a red jersey along with Ben Brust, Rob Wilson, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren.
But Uthoff's performance in that scrimmage was nondescript. He put up five points and collected four boards in the exhibition game against UW-Stevens Point, but also had two turnovers and two fouls in only seven minutes. Though at times Uthoff seems too talented to keep off the floor this year, it appears he is back in the dogfight for minutes.
Traevon Jackson was viewed coming in as a steady, well-built guard who was ready to contribute right away defensively. When I saw him at the Red/White Scrimmage, though, it appeared that classmate George Marshall was the one with greater potential to disrupt foes defensively due to his quickness. It wasn't until the exhibition game that Jackson stood out, registering five points, two rebounds and two assists in an impressive 17 minutes. As of now, Jackson appears to be in line for some minutes in the crowded backcourt.
Marshall faces an uphill battle as a "Ryan point guard." Not only is Ryan notorious for trying to break down and rebuild flashy, scoring point guards (see Hughes, Trevon), but Marshall is stuck behind All-American Jordan Taylor on the depth chart. Traditionally point guards do not redshirt, though, because the recruits at that position are abundant. I would not expect Marshall to be any exception, and he has said as much to reporters. Marshall must be content to get stronger, work on defense and improve his decision-making so he can step in when called upon this season.
Like Marshall, big Frank Kaminsky played little versus UW-Stevens Point. Yet with some improvement on defense, Kaminsky could find himself in the mix up front as a freshman. He fits the mold of pick-and-pop guys like Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil and has added reasonable weight since his enormous growth spurt a few years ago. His ball skills are advanced for a big man and with Evan Anderson still a raw specimen on offense, Kaminsky could form an offensive/defensive pivot platoon for the Badgers behind Berggren. As much as I hate to admit it, Stephen Bardo was ahead of the curve on this one.
The real surprise would be if there were no surprises from the freshmen this year. I think the Uthoff situation is win-win, because he is a guy worth saving for an extra year if you can get away with it, but we will find out soon enough. And Jackson feels like one of those Gasser or Boo Wade-types that Ryan sees a spot for and feels comfortable with.
I would be surprised if Marshall gets many minutes this season. Long-term, I think he still can be a pesky defender and a matchup problem due to his quickness. As a walk-on, Smith could decide to redshirt, a la Brett Valentyn, to give UW another seasoned shooter down the road. In light of recent comments, Kaminsky's potential is the most encouraging, but given the team's needs right now it is not shocking.
Any way it goes down, this will be a fun group to watch over the next four -- or five -- years.