Bo, Canada: What to Watch for When Bucky Heads North

You will be seeing a lot more of this. A LOT more. - Jonathan Daniel

On Tuesday, the University of Wisconsin basketball team takes off for an eight-day, five-game tour de hoops across the mysterious lands of Canada. Yes, it's mid-August. And yes, the NCAA selection committee will never even remotely consider the results from Ottawa and Toronto. But don't underestimate the importance of these games in making this season a successful one for UW hoops.

THE GAMES

  • 8/21 vs. Carleton University, 6 p.m. FUN FACT: They've been to as many NCAA Tournaments as Northwestern.
  • 8/22 vs. University of Ottawa, 6 p.m. (Stream) SOUND IT OUT: Their best player is named Johnny Berhanemeskel, I APPROVE OF THIS NAME.
  • 8/24 vs. A-Game Hoops, 5 p.m. DID YOU KNOW: Bill Wennington is Canadian? I'll be damned.
  • 8/25 vs. Ryerson University, 7 p.m. (Stream) NOTABLE ALUM: Will, from Will & Grace. I don't think he was on the basketball team.
  • 8/26 vs. A-Game Hoops, 12 p.m. WOULD YOU RATHER: Flee to Canada or Mexico if you had to leave the United States for good? People in movies always head to Mexico, but I'm picking Canada. I speak pretty good Spanish, but I enjoy not constantly sweating and being able to safely drink water a little too much to commit to a lifetime in Mexico.

WHICH OF THESE FRESHMEN CAN BALL?

Playing as a freshman under Bo Ryan usually comes at the intersection of talent and opportunity. Josh Gasser may not have been the single most talented freshman to show up in Madison, but due to roster attrition he was given the chance to step into a starter's role almost immediately. One of this year's top recruits - point guard Bronson Koenig - is probably more talented than Gasser was as a freshman, but Koenig will have to battle to see the court simply due to the logjam at guard.

Meanwhile, with the departure of Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz, and Jared Berggren, plenty of tick is available for the freshmen bigs to step up. And that's why you need to pay close attention to Nigel Hayes. A 6-7, 230 pound forward from Ohio, Hayes has quickly turned some heads in practice:
[He's] the real deal ... He's strong. He's smart. He's hungry. I don't like to put pressure on a freshman. He's shown some really good things.

That's not a teammate talking - that's Bo Ryan, a man who seldom heaps praise on a freshman. From both watching highlights and talking with people within the UW program, it's clear that Hayes will be able to bang down low and stretch defenses out with his jumper. A freshman big getting 20+ minutes per game at Wisconsin is typically unheard of, but Hayes appears to be on the cusp of doing just that. THAT IS A SEMI-BOLD PREDICTION.

BUCKY'S GOT A FEVER AND THE ONLY PRESCRIPTION IS MORE POINT GUARDS

Between Traevon Jackson, George Marshall, Josh Gasser, and Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin is absolutely flush with capable point guards. The intriguing thing about this is that they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Jackson showed zero fear last year in knocking down big shot after big shot. Marshall has a silky smooth mid-range game and flashed the ability to connect from downtown. Gasser was a fringe-elite (whatever that means) defender and butter-stroking shooter before blowing out his knee. And Koenig comes in with great size and perhaps the most natural point guard skillset of the group:


So what do you need to pay attention to? The biggest wildcard is Gasser. He's been cleared to play, but the team plans on easing him back in with 8-12 minutes of playing time each game during the Canada trip. Expecting him to be back to 100% anytime soon would seem foolish, but that's what people thought about Adrian Peterson. I'm not saying Josh Gasser is Adrian Peterson, but I'm not NOT saying Josh Gasser is Adrian Peterson. He's hungry to get back out there, and it sounds like he ate, drank, and slept in the trainer's room for the past year. I will not be doubting him and you shouldn't be either.

IS FRANK KAMINSKY READY TO PUT THE TEAM ON HIS BACK?

UW fans everywhere will be looking at Frank to make that huge jump in play from his sophomore to junior year. Last year we saw a tall guy who liked to shoot threes and didn't do much work in the paint. And that was tolerable with Jared Berggren playing big minutes at the 5 ahead of Frank. But the time has come for Kaminsky to assert himself down low. For Wisconsin to be successful, Kaminsky is going to have to rebound. He's going to have to get a few buckets with his back to the basket when the threes aren't falling. He's going to have to protect the rim and alter shots. Two years ago he spent the offseason re-shaping his body (I know how hard it is to cut out Qdoba burritos, so I respected that dedication more than most). Hopefully he's spent the last five months crashing the boards and fine-tuning his jump hook.

#DEKKER

Last year was just a tease. I promise you that. Sam is the truth, and he is going to be absolutely UNLEASHED on the college basketball landscape this year. Forget all the BS you hear about Bo Ryan's system holding players like Dekker back. That's nothing but nonsense. It didn't stop Jordan Taylor from being a second team All-American. It certainly didn't stop Alando Tucker from scoring 19+ ppg his last two seasons in Madison. And it DEFINITELY won't stop Dekker from going nuts this year.

Last season he had three seniors ahead of him. Ignore the numbers game for a second, and realize that from a leadership perspective, from a 'this is my team' perspective, Dekker was forced into the background. Even though everyone could see his skills, even though he oozed talent every time he stepped on the court, it was clear that his time was still to come. Well, my friends, that time is now. There's nothing between Dekker and playing 35 minutes every night, shooting the second he gets separation. Other than Ben Brust (who truly thrives as a spot-up shooter and doesn't need the ball in his hands that much), Sam has zero competition on the scoring pecking order. Assuming his defense has improved (safe assumption), a first team all-B1G season seems like a lock.

In other words, I'm higher on Dekker than these guys.

*****************************************

There are many questions to be answered, and some will take longer than others to clarify. But this trip north of the border offers a unique opportunity for Bo to get his freshmen up to speed, get Gasser back into the mix, and build the team chemistry necessary to win in the best league in the land.

PS - If the Mayor of Canada and the Mayor of Madison aren't making a bet involving the loser sending cheese curds or poutine to the winner then I don't want to live anymore.

PPS - Cheese curds > poutine, it's not even close.

Triple PS - Made it through the entire post without posting this video. Really proud of myself.

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