The Badgers lost to Rutgers on Sunday night. It doesn't make any more sense the more times it is typed. The Scarlet Knights had lost to a number of Saints already this season and had scored 26 points against Virginia. Rutgers is not a team this year's Badgers should lose to, even without starting center Frank Kaminsky.
However, during the second half of the game, the Badgers also lost senior point guard Traevon Jackson to injury and that proved to be the death knell for Wisconsin in New Jersey. Down two senior starters, on the road, against a team looking for a signature win? When you put it like that, it's not as hard to believe that Wisconsin lost.
Jackson is out for a minimum of six weeks with a fractured right foot.
Wisconsin starting point guard Traevon Jackson has a fractured right foot & will have surgery Thursday, source told ESPN. Likely out 6 weeks— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 12, 2015
Fortunately for Wisconsin, Kaminsky has been cleared to play Thursday night against Nebraska and should provide a huge boost to an offense that was at times, to put it nicely, stagnant against Rutgers. Regaining a National Player of the Year candidate is great, but what happens if there is no one to pass him the ball?
The most important position on a college basketball team is the point guard. He is the one that sets up the offense, gets everyone in the proper place, and then passes the ball to the open man for an easy shot. At times the point guard will need to create offense for himself as well and a delicate dance must be done to keep his teammates happy while still getting his. It can take a college point guard some time to figure all this out, and if you watched Jackson play earlier in his career you may have thought he'd never get there. However, as an upperclassman Jackson has been an excellent point guard.
Jackson has improved his offensive rating, true shooting percentage, and his eFG percentage every year of his career and has lowered his turnover percentage (Wisconsin's fans biggest pet peeve with him as a freshman/sophomore) during that same time. While it would be tough for Jackson to improve on his stellar junior season, he was certainly keeping pace with last year up to this point in the season.
Now that the worst case scenario has happened and Jackson will miss the bulk of conference play, it is time to see where the Badgers go from here. Luckily for Wisconsin, the backup point guard is highly regarded sophomore Bronson Koenig out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Committing to Bo Ryan and the Badgers over offers from the likes of UNC and Duke, Koenig was seen as a Wisconsin hero for selecting his home team.
Koenig has seen an increase in minutes this year before Jackson's injury, and now with Jackson out Koenig will enter the starting lineup as the primary ball handler. Looking at Koenig's advanced stats, you'll see numbers similar to Jackson's and Koenig's turnover percentage is actually much lower than his senior counterpart's. Although it's a small sample size, you'll also notice that in game where Jackson was in foul trouble or Koenig simply got more minutes, the youngster seems to play better. He gets into a rhythm and really finds his shooting stroke.
Against Rutgers, Koenig played a career high 31 minutes and went 5-of-7 from the field for 12 points and added two boards, three assists, and only one turnover. Against Georgetown at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Koenig played 27 minutes and scored 14 points (6-of-10 shooting), had four assists, and again only one turnover. In the Final Four last year, Jackson was in foul trouble and Koenig played most of the first half. While his shooting numbers weren't great for the game (4-of-10) he did score 11 points as a freshman on the biggest stage possible.
The Badgers also have reserve guard Zak Showalter, who has mostly been an energy/defense guy off the bench, who will look to round out a complete game since he's now the first guard in when Koenig or Josh Gasser needs a breather. Gasser is also capable of handling point guard duties, although he is better suited playing off the ball. I suppose if Ryan really wanted to get nuts with the lineup, he could slide Dekker down to the two guard and roll with Koenig, Dekker, Duje Dukan, Nigel Hayes, and Kaminsky for the tallest lineup in Wisconsin history (I'm assuming).
Koenig has his chance to run the show, and on the national stage too. The Badgers, for all the hand wringing over losing to Rutgers, are still in the top-10 and are still the favorite to win the Big Ten. What Koenig lacks in experience and senior leadership he makes up for in basketball IQ. The Badgers will miss Jackson, no doubt about it, but they should be in capable hands with Koenig at the helm.
Getting Frank Kaminsky back will probably also be helpful for the young point guard.