By Andrew Kahn
Three-year starter Traevon Jackson is graduating, but Wisconsin’s point guard spot is in good hands. When Jackson broke his foot in January, sophomore Bronson Koenig replaced him in the starting lineup and played well. The Badgers didn’t miss a beat, losing just once in that span until last night’s defeat to Duke in the national championship.
For the season, Koenig averaged 8.7 points and 2.5 assists per game, more than double his output from last year. Those numbers were even higher as Koenig’s minutes increased following Jackson’s injury. Like many of Bo Ryan’s players, Koenig is a good shooter (40 percent from three) who protects the ball (98 assists to 33 turnovers). He’s aggressive offensively, and is perhaps a little too impatient at times for Ryan’s liking.
Last night against Duke, Koenig was 4 of 9 from the field with 10 points, four assists, and no turnovers. He assisted on Wisconsin’s first basket of the game, flipping the ball back to Frank Kaminsky and sealing off a defender to give Kaminsky a clean look at a three. Later, he made a nice crossover move to get to the free throw line for a jumper, and was fouled. He opened the second half with a three from the corner, and scored six straight points during a run that put Wisconsin up by nine. All three of those baskets came off the dribble, and he wasn’t afraid to attack early in the shot clock.
The flip side of that was on display in the first half. Koenig missed two contested three-pointers with plenty of time on the shot clock. He also had a couple of wild drives later in the game. No player shoots 100 percent, and you don’t want players afraid to shoot, but Wisconsin’s possessions, on average, were longer than all but one team in the country this season, according to KenPom. Ryan values making the defense work nearly every time down the floor.
Defensively, Koenig did a great job on Tyus Jones for much of the game. Down the stretch, Koenig was caught in ball screens that freed Jones just enough for critical jumpers. It’s hard to say without knowing Wisconsin’s exact defensive assignments whether those plays were Koenig’s fault. He was definitely battling to get through the screens and it didn’t seem like there was much else he could do. When Duke went up eight points late, Koenig didn’t panic. He made two nice bounce passes—one to Kaminsky for a three and one to Nigel Hayes for a dunk—that kept the Badgers alive.
In Wisconsin’s semifinal victory over Kentucky, Koenig hit two free throws to give the Badgers a four-point lead with 13 seconds left, and made one of two on the next possession to make it five with six seconds left. Asked about it after the game, Ryan said he knew Koenig was mentally tough when he recruited him because “he hated to lose.” Much like this year’s team was fueled by last season’s Final Four defeat, Koenig and his teammates will come back hungry next season.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.