If you are anything like me, you already figured Josh Gasser would wind up the starting lead guard for the Wisconsin Badgers this season. But banking on the way Bo Ryan does business, I thought we might silently progress toward the opener and suddenly there Gasser would be on the floor, rock in hand, advancing the ball and barking out orders.
Learning my lesson from the "will he or won't he" Danny O'Brien vs. Joel Stave race during fall football camp, I am comforted by the decisiveness of Ryan's declaration. Gasser won the job. When Jordan Taylor graduated, the spot was up for grabs. As much as we hoped and believed George Marshall would be the guy, Gasser got better. Again.
"Thank goodness for the new rule," Ryan told the media Thursday. "We had a chance to see Josh Gasser this year following up on who is next. The two hours that we had a chance to work with him [each week this summer] and then the couple of hours in the fall, I'm glad that we had that, because Josh will be the point guard."
For me it comes down to two numbers. A simple math equation: 66 career starts + 37.1 mins/game in Big Ten play last season. This guy knows what the hell he's doing out there. And really, who better to guide your team than the player who is going to be on the court more than anyone else. That, my friends, is stability. That is leadership.
Gasser is a former quarterback after all.
Ryan values toughness, consistency, responsibility and a willingness to learn above everything. Gasser possesses those qualities in spades. It is no wonder that Ryan said Gasser's teammates "have rallied around him." Could Ryan hand the ball off to Marshall and reach higher heights? Sure. But there would be lower lows as well. It would be a rollercoaster ride. This is no knock on Marshall either. His time will come.
Like I said, if you read our sampler of feedback from the first open practice earlier this week, you could even say this choice was a foregone conclusion.
Why has the junior already logged so many minutes in his career? For starters, Gasser is a good rebounder for his size, gobbling up over 12% of available defensive boards according to Ken Pomeroy. Replacing Taylor's NCAA-best career 3.01 assist-to-turnover ratio is a tall order, but Gasser has the fifth-best mark in school history (1.95). He is 10th on Wisconsin's all-time list of most accurate 3-point shooters (39.1%) after improving dramatically to a team-high 45% clip on threes last season.
The trick is getting those numbers to hold up when the offense breaks down and the pressure is now on him to make a play. And though I noted his excellent assist-to-turnover ratio, Gasser actually took a big step back in that department last year, with the team's highest turnover rate among regulars.
But as Ryan pointed out, Gasser is a different kind of point guard, with a special skill.
"Defensively, he is so much better at this point than a lot of the other guards that we've had at the point because of his length," Ryan said. "The other guys were pretty good defenders, but Josh is a step above that defensively, and because of his height, I think he can see things very well. So he's thinking another pass ahead, like some of those hockey guys that make the pass that leads to the pass that gets you a bucket. He understands angles, and he's extremely competitive."
The evidence suggests this year's team has the pieces to be one of the best defensive teams in Wisconsin history. In some weird crossed-up sports analogy, that great defense is going to start with the quarterback.
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