What to Watch in Canada, Part II: Emergence of freshmen

USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin heads to Canada this week for a five-game exhibition tour. In each of the three days leading up to the first game, B5Q is highlighting one item to pay close attention to during the two live-streamed games on Aug. 22 and Aug. 25. In part two of the series, we look at how the 2013 freshman class fits in so far.

Between the football team's open scrimmages and the basketball team's exhibition games, Wisconsin fans are being spoiled this month in terms of getting an early peek at the young, exciting players on both squads.

On the hardwood, a six-man freshmen class that includes walk-on forward Aaron Moesch will make its quasi-debut Wednesday in Ottawa. There's no telling how much actual playing time each newcomer will receive, but I think it's safe to assume Bo Ryan will try out a few interesting combinations over the course of five games.

Though UW's 2013 class was flush with guards, all eyes will surely be on the two forwards from Ohio, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown. Both are physically ready for Big Ten play, with Hayes the favorite for early playing time.

Reminiscent of his comments about Jarrod Uthoff two years ago, Ryan has already called Hayes "the real deal."

"He's strong. He's smart. He's hungry," Ryan said. "I don’t like to put pressure on a freshman. He's showed some really good things."

Like Uthoff before him, Hayes was a consensus top-35 recruit at his position coming in. Word out of early practices is that he's going to force his way into the rotation, which is very welcome news with the graduation losses the team sustained up front. Hayes has pretty good ball skills and the agility to slide in at 230 pounds alongside Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky at power forward.

The slightly taller Brown, a man of many talents, may take more time to develop. Starting out, he'll be better suited to grab minutes at the center position backing up Kaminsky. Meanwhile Moesch, who showed good ball skills for a 6-foot-7 forward in high school, figures to be a few years away from contributing, so why not check him out in Canada while you can?

In the backcourt, Bronson Koenig headlines a diverse group. A former AAU teammate of Dekker, Koenig could fit in at either guard spot, though he's probably best suited at point guard where he can create.

Therein lies the problem, however. To say the Wisconsin backcourt is crowded would be an understatement.

There is enough of a logjam that George Marshall had to dispel rumors over the spring that he was transferring out. He's back and has a two-year head start on this year's freshmen. If Josh Gasser can return to his old form, the Badgers will easily go five-deep at guard. Keep in mind that Bo Ryan typically settles on an eight-man rotation. The trip to Canada will be intriguing if only to see which guard spot Ryan might like Koenig at while Gasser slowly returns to game shape.

As for the other two freshmen guards, Jordan Hill and Riley Dearring, the tour will give us the first idea as to their playing-time pecking order, since both players are considered possible redshirt candidates.

Hill has the more renowned defensive reputation, but it would be a major surprise if his defense was already good enough to vault him over an incumbent like Zak Showalter for that utility role. Dearring is more interesting because he is a bit taller at 6-foot-5 and can stroke it from 3-point land. If he wasn't so slight of frame, he might be able to sneak some minutes spelling a guy like Dekker as more of a wing forward.

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Koenig was the highest-rated member of the incoming 2013 class at No. 79 in the RSCI rankings, continuing the trend of Wisconsin's top recruits coming from within the state's borders.

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For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.

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