Traevon Jackson is something of a lightning rod for hot takes in the Wisconsin Badgers community, and I'll be the first to admit I'm often at the forefront of this problem.
It's go time. I really hope I don't have to start writing my book (co-authored by @jtninmann) "That's Enough Trae Jackson" after this game.— Drew Hamm (@drewhamm5) March 14, 2014
And for the record, Jackson recorded zero points in the game that night against Minnesota. Luckily Ben Brust and Nigel Hayes had his back or you'd all be reading a 300 page masterclass in cursing. But back to the takes, if you search "Good Trae vs. Bad Trae" on Bucky's 5th Quarter you'll find myriad results, with hundreds of comments about which version of Trae showed up in the previous game. Everyone who has watched a Wisconsin basketball game in the past two years has an opinion on Trae Jackson, and quite honestly, the opinions go hard one way or the other and can change from half to half, making Jackson one of the most interesting players to look at on the Badgers.
Let's see what "Good Trae" has done so far. In the NCAA Tournament, Jackson is Wisconsin's leading scorer at 17 points per game, well above his season average of 10.8. He's second on the team with six boards per game, above his season average of 3.7; and he's leading the team with four assists per game, which is right at his season average of 3.9. And because fair is fair, here is what "Bad Trae" has done (it is a much smaller list than usual). He's averaging 2.5 turnovers per game, just above his season average of 2.2.
Now, this is where I, a seasoned Trae Jackson doubter, change my tune. Traevon Jackson has been the most important player for Wisconsin this postseason, and will continue to be as long as they stay in the Tournament. Competent, veteran guard play is essential for any team to make it far in the Tournament (see: Michigan State, Louisville, Arizona, UConn, Florida) and Wisconsin, with Trae Jackson's marked improvements in the Tournament, have that in spades.
The best thing about Jackson's resurgence is that he's doing it without forcing his shot. You can go through his game log, and believe me I have, and see 3-of-13 against UVA or 1-of-9 against WVU or 2-of-12 versus Northwestern. Despite winning two out of three of those games (DAMN YOU NORTHWESTERN!), Jackson shot poorly and it seems Wisconsin won despite him. In these two Tournament games, Jackson is 9-of-16 (56.3%) from the field which is only the fourth most shots attempted on the team. He's played the second most minutes and attempted the fourth most shots! That is an excellent ratio. Another key has been Jackson's ability to get to the free throw line, and subsequently make those free throws. Frank Kaminsky was dreadful from the free thrown line against Oregon (2-for-7), but Jackson's sparkling 9-for-11 line from the charity stripe more than made up for it. He's 13-for-15 (86.7%, 10 points better than his regular season average) for the Tournament so far, and many of those (in the Oregon game) were in clutch situations.
An area where I have never doubted Jackson is his rebounding. For a point guard, hell for a small forward, Jackson is an excellent rebounder. He seems to understand where the ball is going off the rim, and like Ben Brust, attacks the loose ball with ferocity. I don't know much about coaching a D-1 basketball team, but I think Jackson's rebounding prowess covers up a lot of his turnovers in Bo Ryan's eyes. Of the six rebounds per game he's grabbing, 1.5 are coming on the offensive end.
I've said a lot of positive things about Jackson here, and I'm starting to feel a little light headed, so let's take a quick peek at what infuriates Badger fans about their point guard's play...ball security. Jackson can get ahead of himself sometimes whilst running the break, or even whilst running the half court offense, and has a tendency to turn the ball over. Wisconsin lead the nation in turnovers per game (in the good way, shut up, you know what I mean) this year, but Jackson had a propensity to lose the ball more than others. Turning the ball over is the fastest way to earn a seat next to the coaches on the bench for Wisconsin (fun fact: the second fastest way is to dunk in a game) and Jackson found himself with a short leash on many occasions. It seems that the leash has lengthened considerably due to the fact that Jackson is turning the ball over more (barely) in the Tourney but is still on the court for almost the whole time against Oregon.
So, what do we have here? A lot of numbers and silly personal biases you might answer, but you would be wrong! I think we have an overview of a junior point guard coming into his own on the largest stage possible. From years of watching "Good Trae vs. Bad Trae," however, I know that things can change from game to game, half to half, and even possession to possession. Trae Jackson is the key for how far Wisconsin goes in this Tournament, and seeing as this is probably the most talented Badgers team in years, it could be far.