Tempo, tempo, tempo

One house-keeping note before we dive into observations from the Badgers' exhibition opener vs. Bemidji State. Bo Ryan has added a 16th player to his 2009-10 roster: 6-foot-2 guard J.D. Wise. The Whitefish Bay Dominican alum made the Wisconsin roster after an open tryout last Wednesday and participated in his first UW practice on Thursday. Wise, a freshman, will practice with the team this semester, but is unable to compete until the spring semester. He will wear No. 22.

Thoughts from the 90-54 win over Bemidji State:

1.) Wisconsin's athleticism was clearly on display Wednesday night. You would hope that the Badgers would have more athletes than a Division II squad, but what we didn't know was how much more explosive this year's Badgers would be compared to last season.

With Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil inside, Wisconsin has two of the most athletic big men in the conference. Their athleticism and added strength should also come in handy around the basket. On two separate occasions, Leuer and Nankivil caught passes on the low block and, instead of laying it in or trying to get fouled, both flushed it with powerful dunks. Couple those athletic big-men with players like Rob Wilson and Ryan Evans in the rotation and suddenly UW looks like a different team.

2.) It appears that the increase in athleticism this season will have a direct influence on the Badgers' pace of play. Against the Beavers, Wisconsin routinely pushed the ball up the floor and earned several baskets before Bemidji's defense was in place. My personal favorite was when Trevon Hughes dropped off a nice pass to Leuer, who made a tough catch at full speed and laid it in.

The senior guard duo of Hughes (7 assists) and Jason Bohannon (6 assists) sparked many of the runouts as UW scored 10 fast-break points in the first half. Let's put that in perspective: in UW's final three games a year ago (one Big Ten tourney and two NCAA tourney games) the Badgers TOTALED two fastbreak points. Granted, Wisconsin doesn't give up many either, allowing just nine over that span.

Bohannon said Wednesday night that the coaches have put a stress on pushing the ball up the floor in preseason practices. He added that the goal is to stay out of late-in-the-shot-clock situations that result in empty possessions.

Wisconsin will need to find the happy medium of when it is conducive to run and when not to. Bohannon had a couple great runouts, but he also threw an alley-oop lob pass off the backboard that resulted in a turnover. I'm sure Coach Ryan addressed that in his teaching clips on Thursday.

Even with a mistake or two, fans will like what they see if this tempo continues.

3.) You could tell that it was preseason basketball at times Wednesday, particularly with some of the Badgers' turnover-happy moments. The second unit is still adjusting to playing together, but even the first unit had a second-half stretch that Wisconsin knows is unacceptable. For a team that led the Big Ten with only 10.0 turnovers per game last season, you know they'll work on it.

"We did a lot of good things out there tonight but there are a lot of things we can improve on also," Bohannon said after the game. "I think there were some instances in the game where we went on a little turnover spree and we can definitely fix that, especially going into Big Ten play."
4.) Consider the following: The Badgers' five starters vs. Bemidji State averaged a combined 39.1 points last season. The first five players off Bo Ryan's bench vs. the Beavers averaged a combined 3.1 points per game a year ago.

The Badgers will need to develop a scorer off the bench, and sophomore Rob Wilson looks like he might be ready to fill that void. It was really encouraging to see Wilson attack the rim Wednesday night and he looked more comfortable within the offense than a year ago. In just 15 minutes of action, the 6-foot-3 guard made 4-of-6 from the field and 4-of-6 from the free throw line for 12 points. We probably can't expect 12 a night from Wilson, but a double-digit scorer off the bench would be a luxury Wisconsin hasn't had since 1986-87 when Shelton Smith averaged 11.5 a night.

5.) The maturation of Ryan Evans is going to be a fun ride... emphasis on the word "ride". The redshirt freshman has already become a fan favorite (and a Bo Ryan favorite apparently), and why shouldn't he be? Evans brings an energy and spark that is contagious. Five blocks, a power dunk on a fastbreak and a few and-ones is quite a night. However, as is the case with most freshmen, the good comes with some growing pains as well.

Early in the game, Evans was slow getting through a screen and Coach Ryan sat him down to talk about it. He responded later with a block on his man and then made a great block as a help-side defender. You like to see that improvement. Another example of the give-and-take came later in the first half when Evans beat his man, made a strong move to rim and drew the foul. That was the good, the bad was that he missed both free throws. Later, he had a highlight reel one-handed dunk on a fast break that brought the loudest roar of the night. If he makes enough of the great plays, it will compensate for a mistake or two and make it very hard for Ryan to leave him on the bench.

"It's so nice to look at a guy like Ryan, who never asked, 'How many minutes am I going to get?' Never asked, 'Are you going to start me?'" Coach Ryan said Wednesday. "All Ryan Evans ever said was, 'I'd love a chance to play at Wisconsin. I think I can do it.' So he's trying to prove that. Coaching those kinds of guys is so much fun and I just hope he keeps getting better."

That makes two of us, Coach.
ON WISCONSIN