Early season storylines for the Wisconsin men's basketball team have ranged from the emergence of Ben Brust, Josh Gasser's shooting and a passive Jordan Taylor to the redshirting of Jarrod Uthoff and George Marshall. The most intriguing to me has been the play of Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson.
Two years ago, Evans was an intriguing redshirt sophomore looking like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His raw tools (athleticism, length) were fresh, exciting and effective in spurts. A stream of alley-oops seemed to be a possible mainstay in the Kohl Center's future as Evans averaged 3.5 points in 13.2 minutes per game right off the bat.
Wilson was a sophomore on the rise who looked like the aggressive offensive player UW would need in the backcourt. He shot 54.7% from the field, highest among Badger regulars. On the season, Wilson averaged similar output as Evans, amounting to 3.1 points in 12.2 minutes per game.
Fast forward a year. Wilson's offensive rating plummeted an impressive 116 to 90.5; Evans' dropped 92.4 to 82.4. Both players struggled last season with mental lapses, turnovers, odd shot selection and Bo Ryan's occasional ire -- acting like what my dad would call "turkeys." But, in the spirit of the week, I aim to pardon one or both of these guys for last year's missteps if they keep contributing at a high level.
By the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, the Badgers should be proud champions of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. Odds are Evans and Wilson will play a part in that. After an opening round win over Wofford, the task continues Tuesday with Missouri-Kansas City. Both wings must show consistency against the rest of the pre-conference patsies if UW has any hope for them being effective during its Nov. 30 showdown with North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
The case for Ryan Evans
Saturday's performance against Wofford was one of Evans' finest in a Badger uniform: 6-of-12 shooting for 13 points, plus 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and no turnovers! His 33 points thus far are his best three-game stretch ever. He has always been a high-usage player, but only this year is that really helping Wisconsin.
Evans hasn't taken many embarrassing shots at this point and has seen his minutes per game (24.0) increase to about double his career average now that he is a starter. While his rebounding production has doubled as you might expect, his scoring is up dramatically early on. And what is really turning heads is how well Evans is finding open teammates. Part of the equation has been Wisconsin shooting over 50% and nearly 48% on 3-pointers. That won't last forever. But keep it up against UMKC, Bradley and the BYU/Nevada winner and you've earned yourself a pardon, Mr. Evans.
The case for Rob Wilson
At this time last year, Wilson was making little impact in his first appearance off a hamstring injury. But now, as only the second most-famous R. Wilson at UW, the senior has returned to the regular rotation after spending the final half of last season in the dog house. Wilson has seen his most playing time since the three-game stretch last year that culminated in the Michigan State breakdown. Amazingly, Wilson's 13 points in the past two outings constitute his best back-to-back scoring performances since February of 2010.
Wilson has shown a nose for the ball at times and is bringing more energy than in the past. Though he has not had any Hasheem Thabeets to dunk on yet, that reckless abandon Wilson showed as a freshman is under control now and lurking. He's averaging a career-high 15 minutes and is once again shooting a very high percentage. We always knew Wilson could score if his head was in the game and he's putting in a career-high 5.3 per game off the bench. If he can keep converting his outside shots, he'll be a valuable asset against the Tar Heels.