To no one's surprise, the Badgers did away with the Beavers of Bemidji State in ho-hum fashion Wednesday. Every Badger saw at least three minutes of playing time in the first of two exhibition games for Wisconsin, and all but two scored.
Four players finished in double figures in points, led by Jon Leuer's 15, as the Badgers rolled, 90-54.
Wisconsin's starters helped build a 46-22 halftime lead, and the team never looked back.
Leuer's dominance was a welcome sight. The junior forward is expected to play a bigger role this season, following the departures of Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft. Despite getting significantly stronger this offseason, there was some concern about Leuer's development after a poor showing in the team's scrimmage. He put those fears to rest for now, leading the team in rebounds with five and shooting 7-of-8 from the field. His teammates were impressed.
"That shows how much more physical he's gotten," guard Jason Bohannon said. "We worked really hard in the spring and the summer to really get the ball towards the hoop."
Leuer's performance was one way in which the Badgers took advantage of their size and more than doubled the Beavers' production in the paint. Head coach Bo Ryan stressed the importance of strength under the basket this offseason and the message seems to have sunk in. Wisconsin collected 44 rebounds in the game, to Bemidji State's 24. Even the guards were making harder cuts to the basket than we saw a season ago, forcing the Beavers to foul, which they did 29 times.
The Badgers' defense was, well, Badger-like. Brady Fairbanks was the only Beaver to score in double figures, and the team shot just 40 percent from the field. The defensive play of Trevon Hughes and Bohannon, in particular, led to 19 Bemidji State turnovers. Bohannon talked this offseason about employing some of the defensive strategies he picked up from one of the Badgers' best-ever shutdown defenders, Michael Flowers. He proved tonight he is on the right track, stealing the ball three times and hounding opposing guards.
The surprise star of the night was redshirt freshman Ryan Evans, who scored 12 points and had an astounding five blocks. Evans played with tenacious energy and made a strong case for playing time in the regular season. His head coach took notice.
"Coaching those kinds of guys is so much fun," Ryan said. "I just hope he keeps getting better."
Evans himself was on cloud nine after the game.
"I've been having a lot of fun out there," he said. "Just being able to get out there and build the team chemistry in these exhibition games."
Despite finishing with only eight points, Hughes looked proficient and under control running the offense. He distributed the ball well, picking up seven assists, and played great defense. For the Badgers to be successful in an improved Big Ten, Hughes has to be a consistent floor leader. He looked the part tonight.
Bohannon said after the game that there are things to work on, and he is right. The Badgers made only 50 percent of their free throws in the second half, a trend that must change given how many close games they tend to play. Wisconsin also made only 5 of 20 three-point attempts. Tim Jarmusz was particularly inaccurate, going 0-for-4 in that category and not justifying Ryan's decision to name him a starter. Two points in 24 minutes on the floor is simply not enough production for the junior, especially when Evans and Rob Wilson are in double figures and feeling good.
"I'm more comfortable this year than I was last year," Wilson said. "I look for my shot a lot more but I also just let it come to me."
The team appeared to be enjoying itself out there, and the chemistry seems to be strong. This is not something to overlook after an ugly six-game losing streak in Big Ten play a year ago, followed by a tumultuous offseason that saw Diamond Taylor and Jeremy Glover kicked off the team and Vander Blue rescind his commitment to play for rival Marquette.
It was an encouraging performance, one the Badgers hope to build on as they conclude the exhibition season next week and get set for IPFW and a tough non-conference slate.
NOTE: Bucky's 5th Quarter's Adam Hoge has learned J.D. Wise will join the team soon. From the B5Q Twitter page:
"B5Q has learned J.D. Wise from Whitefish Bay Dominican will join the bball team soon. More to come online."