No Big Ten program has championed the importance of a point guard more than Wisconsin over the last decade. From Devin Harris to Jordan Taylor, veteran point guards embody the one indispensable piece of Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams.
So when junior guard Josh Gasser, who was preparing to run point for the Badgers this season, went down with a season-ending injury on Saturday, the lifeblood of Wisconsin basketball and the team’s Big Ten title prospects dried up in one fell swoop.
Gasser tore the ACL in his left knee at practice Saturday morning, effectively ending his season and reopening the point guard competition just two days after Ryan thought he settled it. The Badgers head coach had tabbed Gasser as the team’s starting point guard at Big Ten media day on Thursday.
As if replacing the versatile Taylor wasn’t enough, now Wisconsin must replace the man designated as his successor. The next point guard in line figures to come down to an open competition between redshirt freshman George Marshall and makeshift junior point guard Ben Brust, an undersized shooting specialist who, lacking the requisite quickness to guard more athletic players, could struggle defending opposing point guards. The man to whom the Badgers will turn as the floor leader in Gasser’s absence, however, will be senior forward Mike Brusewitz. And he knows a thing or two about leg injuries himself.
Brusewitz sliced open his right leg during a nasty fall at a team workout earlier this month and will be sidelined until no sooner than mid-November. So serious was the gash—which bore down on the bone and required anesthesia and 40 stitches to patch up—that Brusewitz has had to shower charily with a garbage bag draped over his leg.
Wisconsin can compensate for the loss of its floor general and bide time until Brusewitz returns to the lineup. Bo Ryan’s swing offense is reliant upon flex cuts and fluid team ball movement, which, along with the team’s notoriously methodical pace, is why no Wisconsin player has averaged five assists [or more] per game under Ryan.
But it doesn’t matter how well Ryan’s team concepts can camouflage the lack of a capable point guard. Wisky’s Big Ten title hopes, slim as they were to begin with, are all but over with Gasser out of the equation. Replacing Taylor’s production, even coming off a down year, was a tall enough task. Winning the league with an unproven freshman running the show or Brust having to defend opposing point guards—with zero roster depth to speak of—is too high for the Badgers’ reach.
Jared Berggren can parlay a strong junior season into an even better senior sendoff. Brusewitz can return 100-percent from his fluky injury. Ryan Evans can become a more dangerous perimeter shooter. Sam Dekker can make the biggest impact of any freshman in the conference. But without Gasser at the helm, Wisconsin is firmly on that second tier in the Big Ten, saddled with more backcourt questions than answers.
Josh Gasser is not the next Devin Harris; he wasn’t going to make fans forget about Jordan Taylor. But he is/was the next promising floor general at Wisconsin and a fundamental cornerstone on a team returning four of five starters.
Gasser’s season-killing injury forces Bo Ryan back to the drawing board. Unless he can pull another point forward out of his bag of tricks as he did with Alando Tucker several years back, the Badgers could be in for some more hurting in Big Ten play.
Ryan’s swing offense better be in full swing by midseason. Without a true floor general for the first time since Taylor’s freshman season, Wisconsin has an awful lot of disguising to do.