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Friday, November 21, 2008

Redshirting and Player Development

Forgive me if I merely gloss over the recent blowout of SIU-Edwardsville, which was hardly more than a glorified exhibition. Marcus Landry still looks like a beast. He set a personal best for the second game in a row, this time by virtue of his five blocked shots. That gives him eight on the young season, good enough for 72 career blocks (look out Stiemsma). And it was good to see Jon Leuer (19 pts, 8-10 FGs) come alive. It seems like whenever Jordan Taylor finds someone for an alley-oop, the recipient is headed for a banner day.

Since I was not able to watch all of the game, the most interesting tidbit of the night was Ian Markolf getting off the bench for the final two minutes. Jared Berggren was the only eligible Badger to not see the floor, so he remains the final freshmen left to cement his plans to redshirt or not. Was Bo Ryan trying to send a message to the lad in a game where even Morris Cain made two buckets? [box score]

At the very least, we got the answer to the question of whom Bo would turn to first in a pinch for a big body. It is obvious that Berggren would get more out of an extra year of physical seasoning than Markolf. Numerous references have been made to the simple zone defense that Berggren played in at his high school. And look at it this way if you must: if you know only one of the bigs will redshirt, don't you theoretically want your higher-rated recruit in the system for five years, rather than four?

On the flip side, just because a player rides the pine without redshirting (Markolf) does not mean the guy won't end up being a big contributor in a Wisconsin uniform. Last year was the first time in the last five seasons that the Badgers did not have a player using a redshirt. As a result, two post players played less than 4 min/g. Keaton Nankivil averaged a lowly 2.4 min/g in 19 appearances, while redshirt freshman J.P. Gavinski averaged 2.1 min/g in only seven games. The jury is still out on Gavinski but Nankivil is already starting for Wisconsin as a true sophomore.

Including Nankivil, I count three times in Bo's tenure that a scrub big man has gone from a non-factor to major contributor, regardless of redshirt status. The Greg Stiemsma Experience began with a disastrous 2.7 min/g average in 10 games his freshman year. Jason Chappell played a grand total of 11 minutes in eight games in 2002-03, took a medical redshirt the next season and again played 3.4 min/g in 14 appearances the following year. Both Stiemsma and Chappell were valuable pieces in their final campaigns.

This issue rarely raises its head with guards. Because every team is desperate for bigs, you don't find any walk-on big men. Eventually, some program will offer that behemoth a scholarship, so schools offer full rides to pivot projects "just in case" (see Gavinski, J.P.). Only once has a full scholarship guard started out with less than 4 min/g and seen his star rise. That was Kammron Taylor, who struggled through 2.3 min/g of PT in 18 games as a true freshman in 2003-04. Mickey Perry redshirted in 2005-06, but transferred out the next season when he was averaging 3.3 min/g in seven games played. Would he have played eventually? Most likely.*

The bottom line is that guards are naturally inclined to adapt more quickly to the college game. They are more coordinated on average, as many big men are still adjusting to their bodies from crazy growth spurts during their high school careers. Wisconsin is not getting any superstar one-and-done centers, so the staff grabs post players with potential and guards who are ready to play for the most part. And in the event that backcourt depth is needed, the program seems to have decent luck with walk-ons. Clayton Hanson should be an inspiration. Once a member of the dreaded 4 min/g and under club, the Reedsburg Rifle worked his way into 30 min/g his final two seasons, even earning a schollie as a senior, when he helped UW reach the Elite Eight.

*Once again, the departure of DeAaron Williams was the more damaging loss in my opinion. He was definitely in the rotation, albeit the low end, as a redshirt sophomore (2005-06), playing 7.9 min/g.

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Paradise Jam Prep
The Badgers are in the Virgin Islands preparing for their first game in the Paradise Jam tournament against Iona. Wisconsin will play at 7:30 CT tonight and Sunday night, win or lose. You can watch poor quality streaming video right from the tourney's website or wait until Sunday (semifinals) and Monday (finals) which will be broadcast by Fox College Sports and Fox Sports Net respectively.

Only six people voted in the most recent poll for a possible Paradise Jam game being their most anticipated game of the regular season. For one thing, a match up with Connecticut in this tournament is far from guaranteed, given the strength of this year's field. Plus it is still early in the season. Maybe it also has to do with how hard it is to actually catch the games live. By the way, the Texas game at the Kohl Center on Dec. 23 took honors, with 42% of the poll's vote, edging out this year's Marquette game (38%).

I have to give another shout out to Landry, who took the time before the trip to counsel the team's youngest players on the importance of keeping focused on their grades even while taking a business trip to the beach. He knows from personal experience. As predicted, there has been no shortage of ink and copy devoted to Landry's story so far this season.

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