What can you really take from a 52-point win over UW-Oshkosh?
We should all know better.
We should all know, for instance, that each of the 14 players Bo Ryan sends onto the floor will not always score. We should all know that the starting five will not average double-digit scoring totals. Perhaps most importantly, for the sake of our collective sanity, we should all know that Wisconsin's young guns -- most notably George Marshall and Sam Dekker -- will not be without the growing pains largely absent in Wednesday night's 96-44 win over UW-Oshkosh at the Kohl Center.
In the craze spurred on by the return of college basketball, we naturally can't help but leap at the opportunity for evaluation and commentary. That's fair, of course. But especially you Badgers fans, you've been burned by that in the past, haven't you?
Most pundits say for these early-season games -- Wednesday's exhibition was the only the Badgers will play -- numbers generally must be thrown away. Observing the rotations is more meaningful, until you realize Zach Bohannon, UW's transfer forward from Air Force played 15 minutes -- longer than Traevon Jackson, Zak Showalter and Duje Dukan, all of whom entered the game before Bohannon. Yet Bohannon, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward who was forced to sit last year out after his transfer, stayed in the game longer thanks to the seven points and eight rebounds (six offense) he contributed in 15 minutes. The six offensive rebounds was the stat that leapt off the box score, and Ryan was complimentary of Bohannon's production in that regard.
But Wisconsin's head coach, all too familiar with the perils of non-conference play after 11 years at UW, also pointed out that Bohannon was only 1-for-4 from the field. His 4-for-4 effort from the free throw line padded his scoring total, and Ryan was hoping for a better effort in putting the ball in the hoop after all those offensive rebounds -- especially considering Oshkosh's starting lineup had one player listed at 6-foot, two listed at 6-foot-1, one at 6-foot-4 and the other at 6-foot-7.
The take-home message here? Look at the minutes everyone played, check the rotations and enjoy the Badgers nearing 100 points as long as it happens.
"You can't get too carried away with the production of 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 guys in this type of situation except for the fact that they were there, took advantage of opportunities," Ryan said. "We're going to play bigger teams, they know that."
The Youngins: Marshall and the 'Chicago Pass,' Dekker's Soft Defense
I learned long ago not to take anything for granted in a Bo Ryan postgame presser. Perhaps it was his "Gong Show" reference after a 10-point win over Illinois last January.
Asked if his team had trouble getting into a rhythm because of all the fouls, Ryan joked that if the game was a dance, they would have called it off. Then he tried to one-up himself in the one-liner department.
"If that was the Gong Show, they would have hooked us all," Ryan said.
Ryan then felt compelled to explain to younger members of his media audience that the Gong Show was an early version of reality television, saying it was kind of like American Idol.
"Google it," Ryan said.
Anyway, I digress. Among the few most legitimate storylines entering the exhibition was the readiness of Wisconsin's young guns, most notably the two battling for the starting point guard spot -- redshirt freshman George Marshall and sophomore Traevon Jackson -- and highly touted freshman Sam Dekker.
Simply put, Marshall played more minutes than anyone (26) and looked mostly sharp, Jackson contributed an all-around sound game (six points on 2-for-2 shooting, four assists and aggressive on-ball defense) and Dekker was fair but mostly underwhelming.
In the post-game media room, Oshkosh head coach Pat Juckem spoke first and extolled Marshall's talents and his readiness as a freshman.
"He really plays under control," Juckem said. "I think he's your prototypical Wisconsin point guard in the sense that he made good decisions. He's a pretty complete player, pretty heady for a young kid."
On Dekker, who played 19 minutes and added five points, five rebounds and three assists, Juckem seemd less impressed in sticking with longer-term prognosticating.
"Obviously Dekker is talented, and you could see glimpses of what he can do and his versatility, which is going to be a good fit for the swing offense."
So what Ryan say about the debuts of perhaps his two most eagerly awaited freshmen?
On Marshall: "He shot it fairly well again, that's good to see. He takes care of the ball, he just made one -- I call it the ‘Chicago Pass.' I used to call them ‘Philly Passes' back east, where it's kind of a flip. We don't make passes like that. You know why? Because he turned it over. So why make those passes? We never practice them. Could you see me in practice going, ‘OK guys, let's work on our flip passes today'?"
No, Bo. We could never see you saying that.
On Dekker: "Sam was a little soft, playing back off a little too much. He's got to be able to get in the grill of guys a little more. Again, I've said this a thousand times -- high school guys who are scorers, defensively, tend to get a little softer on their man because they can't foul out. So he's got to play defense the way we play it all the time, and that is getting into people a little bit more and closing gaps down."
That's more interesting. And don't ring your Allan Evridge Panic Button just yet -- Ryan wasn't skewering Dekker's defense as much as he was making a point to provide fair assessment in the face of what he knows could turn into runaway optimism from fans. Dekker will be a thrill to watch and it would not be surprising to see him crack the starting five at some point, but just like most freshmen, he's got work to do.
Wisconsin Offense in a Post-Jordan Taylor, Post-Josh Gasser World
So, then, who's gonna score? Naturally, that'll fall to the senior leaders in Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. I'd throw Frank Kaminsky in there, too -- yes, I am high on the K-Man -- and we know Ben Brust is good for a few point explosions, as well.
The rest hinges upon the development of Marshall, Dekker and Jackson, and perhaps Bohannon. For feasibility's sake, let's say two of those players -- I'll put Monopoly money on Marshall and Dekker, though I think Jackson will provide more consistency -- are steady offensive contributors. That, on the safe side, yields six guys as reliable scorers. That's some decent balance, and it's not even fully including Jackson and Bohannon.
"It's kind of the way this team plays," Ryan said. "It's the way they played in the summer, it's the way they played in the fall. I could see pretty good balance not knowing who could explode on any given night. There's some guys out there that are capable, because as you know, especially in the [Big Ten], if there's only one guy or two guys you're counting on, it's pretty hard. You've got to have contributions from other people."
I've seen and heard many people saying the Badgers could fall back on an even more swing-oriented offense than in recent years without Taylor and Gasser. Fair enough ... but what if with all these talented, young scorers -- Marshall, Dekker, Jackson and Brust (who has undeniably been more of a slasher so far) -- foster a more up-tempo attack?
Evans, perhaps swayed by the ease of running up and down against Oshkosh's miniature lineup, could see it.
"You never know, you never know," he said. "We might get up and down a little bit more this year. But we'll see how things go when we get to the bigger games."