The news Saturday morning regarding point guard George Marshall‘s impending transfer away from the Wisconsin Badgers came as no surprise to the team’s avid followers. Trick-or-Treat Traevon Jackson seized hold of the starting point guard spot last season, Josh Gasser returned this season, and super-recruit Bronson Koenig arrived on campus this fall, so minutes were going to be at a premium for the 5-foot-11 Marshall even before he suffered a concussion in the first week of the season.
However, after last year’s debacle surrounding forward Jarrod Uthoff‘s departure to the Iowa Hawkeyes, there were surely several raised eyebrows in the Kohl Center and throughout the Twitterverse this morning. Bo Ryan‘s program had gone years without seeing a player transfer out of the program in search of an opportunity to play elsewhere. The times they are a-changin’ – and that’s not a bad thing.
For years the Badgers didn’t have players leave because those players were not good enough to play elsewhere. Wisconsin won games because the team as a whole was drastically greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone accepted their role and the team had success despite trotting out guys that ran with pianos on their backs — much love to Jason Chappell, Joe Krabbenhoft, Greg Stiemsma and Kevin Gullikson — and now that Wisconsin is becoming a bigger player in the national recruiting scene, highly-touted players like Marshall and Uthoff are finding it hard to get on the court.
As last season progressed, it was clear that a changing of the guard was underway. The senior class of Mike Breusewitz, Ryan Evans (and to a lesser extent Jared Berggren) fit well with the big-bodied, defensively sound but offensively challenged approach that Bo Ryan’s teams have exhibited for years. Those teams always lost at least one or two non-conference games because teams didn’t need to worry about all five Badgers on offense – opponents hounded Alando Tucker, Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor and dared other players to beat them. The Marquette Golden Eagles became proficient in defending the Badgers this way — Buzz Williams was 4-2 against Wisconsin coming into today’s game — and countless Badgers fans probably had nightmares of last year’s game in which Ryan Evans shot 1-for-9 from the free throw line in a 60-50 Badger loss.
It’s no coincidence that Wisconsin is off to its best start since 1993-94 after an up-and-down 9-4 non-conference record last season. Each player in Wisconsin’s eight-man rotation is an able shooter, and the team’s surge in scoring is the result of having more talented players in the program. The departure of three senior front-court players and the transfer of another hasn’t hurt the Badgers yet because the overall talent of this team has overcome its lack of interior depth.
Marquette did an admirable job of pounding the ball inside in the first half and racking up so many fouls that Zach Bohannon saw two minutes of playing time after seeing a total of three minutes in the team’s first nine games. The departure of Uthoff, who is scoring at will in Iowa City, may hurt the team down the road this season against big-bodied teams, but this team has found ways to win with smaller lineups throughout the season so far.
Wisconsin’s triumph over Marquette today was proof that the times have changed. The three guard approach — it’s really a four guard team despite the fact that Sam Dekker is 6-foot-7 — has worked because the players are talented enough to make it work. Fans and analysts have been pleasantly surprised with the Badgers this season, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that skill and effort outperform effort alone.
Last season opened with George Marshall as Wisconsin’s starting point guard, and now he is transferring because he is the team’s fourth-best point guard. He hasn’t gotten worse – Wisconsin’s other players have just gotten that much better. Look out, Big Ten Conference. The Badgers are even tougher than usual.