MADISON, Wis. When George Marshall began the season, many presumed he would effortlessly slide into the role of starting point guard at Wisconsin. There would be growing pains, yes, but he possessed a combination of speed and shooting prowess to make his talent stand out and ease the pain of losing guard Josh Gasser to a season-ending ACL injury.
Marshall had sparkled the previous season on the scout team, and if he played with the same confidence and aggressiveness, it seemed few teams would be able to contain him. He was a star waiting to break out in front of a nation.
But six games into the season, inconsistent play caused Marshall to lose his starting spot, and his minutes have continued to plunge. With it, Marshall's confidence has wavered.
Needless to say, it hasn't exactly been the redshirt freshman season he envisioned. So can you blame the guy for being disappointed?
"It's definitely up and down, up and down," Marshall said. "It's definitely frustrating. But you've just got to stay positive, keep working hard, keep getting better and things will get better."
In his six starts, Marshall was averaging 25.0 minutes per game, 7.3 points and 1.5 assists. He has not played more than 23 minutes in any game since that time, as Traevon Jackson has taken over the starting point guard duties on a full-time basis.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan preaches discipline and limiting mistakes. And when players do slip up in key situations, they often find themselves on the bench. Marshall has been no exception, and it certainly hasn't been easy.
"I just try to block things like that out," Marshall said. "I just try to take care of everything in my control. I think it just comes down to me staying focused on what I'm doing when I'm actually out there."
Marshall seemed ready to take a leap forward following his Jan. 19 performance against Iowa. He scored 20 points in just 15 minutes, drilling 7 of 10 field goals and 3 of 4 3-point attempts, nearly bringing Wisconsin back from the dead in a 70-66 loss. But the output hardly changed his playing time.
In Wisconsin's last four games, Marshall is averaging 12.8 minutes per game, 1.3 points and 0.5 assists without a turnover. Jackson, meanwhile, is averaging 35.5 minutes per game, 8.3 points and 3.0 assists. He also is averaging 3.5 turnovers.
Marshall said he and Jackson are best friends on the team, and the two have confided in each other this season.
"It's just tough for George because I think he was put in a difficult situation," Jackson said. "I just try to tell him to keep his head up, never give up on his dreams. Some of the stuff he's going through right now, he can't control. For him, it's to keep fighting and finish the season strong."
On the season, Marshall is averaging 5.0 points and 0.8 rebounds with 28 assists and 12 turnovers. He hasn't committed a turnover in 10 consecutive games, and although Jackson has struggled with holding onto the ball, Jackson has shown a toughness and willingness to take shots in critical situations. He made the game-winning jumper against Minnesota and helped send Wisconsin into the first of two overtimes against Iowa last week with a 3-pointer.
That type of moxie has made it difficult to replace him in the lineup with Marshall.
Badgers forward Mike Bruesewitz said that despite Marshall's immense talent, he expected him to struggle some because Marshall had never been through the grind of a full college season as a key player.
"He was great as a practice player last year and he showed flashes of that this year," Bruesewitz said. "But people are forgetting George is still a freshman. People were coming in expecting a lot out of him. And he had earned that. But this is his first time really going around in the league and everything.
"It's just like freshmen woes. You're in the program for a year, but this is his first year really getting big minutes and contributing at a major level so it's just a learning curve. I think he's handled it well. He continues to work and improve. We need to keep him more aggressive."
Marshall called this season a learning experience. And he is hopeful he can take those lessons and apply them for his remaining three years at Wisconsin to earn more playing time.
"I need to really be aggressive at all times," he said. "At the same time, defensively just kind of stick to everything we do to the T. Those are the main two things: Staying aggressive and getting better defensively."
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