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The Wisconsin Bench Conundrum

Does Wisconsin have a depth problem?

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

When Traevon Jackson went down with a foot injury in Wisconsin's (still inexplicable) loss to Rutgers two and a half weeks ago, most people were concerned with who would step into the starting lineup and how that person would preform. Well, Bronson Koenig has preformed admirably in Jackson's stead and for the most part the Badgers' offense hasn't missed a beat. They are still ranked first in the country in offensive efficiency according to KenPom and they have gone undefeated since Jackson was sidelined.

Seems like there aren't any problems here and the Badgers dodged a bullet, right? Well, as an old man that likes to wear mascot heads might say, not so fast my friend.

The Badgers came into this season with high expectations. They returned the same team that made the Final Four, sans Ben Brust, and were looking to take this season to heights unseen in Madison since 1941 (yeah, the Badgers have a national championship...look it up!). Last year's team trotted out the same starting lineup for every single game, which is an amazing feat, and clearly the injury gods weren't going to be so kind two years in a row. Sam Dekker was hurt before the season even began and remained banged up for much of non-conference play, Frank Kaminsky missed the game against Rutgers, and Jackson is out until at least the end of February.

Luckily for Wisconsin, point guard is probably the only position they could afford to suffer some attrition and still operate at a high level. Koenig was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school and acquitted himself quite nicely when called upon to play extended minutes as a freshman. The problem with inserting Koenig into the starting lineup, though, is that it messes with the Wisconsin rotation.

In the three games before the Rutgers disaster, Duje Dukan and Koenig were the top two options off the bench for Wisconsin. Their minutes were as follows: Dukan, 17 vs. Penn State, 23 vs. Northwestern, and nine vs. Purdue; Koenig, 15 vs. PSU, 21 vs. NU, 15 vs. PU. Vitto Brown is the third guy off the bench usually and he played seven, 10, and four minutes respectively in those games.

Now, in the three games after losing to Rutgers, the distribution of minutes doesn't look wildly different, but the players receiving them does. Dukan is still the leader with 13 minutes vs. Nebraska, 18 vs. Iowa, and 15 vs. Michigan (overtime game), but next off the bench is guard Zak Showalter, a lesser talent than both Koenig and Jackson. He is now getting "first guard off the bench minutes." Showalter played nine minutes against the Huskers, 18 against the Hawkeyes, and 10 against the Wolverines. Brown is still plugging away with seven, six, and two as the eighth guy off the bench.

Wisconsin has never been a team that will run 10 deep and do line changes at timeouts, but they (like any team) do require some production off the bench. Showalter's point totals in his first three games as "first guard off the bench" leave much to be desired. To save you the trouble of looking it up, it is five. He has scored five points in three games, and they all came against Iowa! When your first guard off the bench is scoring zero points in two thirds of his games as the first guard off the are in trouble. On the plus side, he does have three assists and zero turnovers over the same time period and also plays energetic defense.

While Showalter has a number of positive qualities, being a scoring option and a competent reliever to Koenig are unfortunately not among them. Koenig has led the team in minutes played against Nebraska and Iowa, and despite being third in minutes played against Michigan he still clocked 40 since the game went into OT.

Showalter is going to need to up his game over the next month so that Bo Ryan feels comfortable letting Koenig come to the sideline for some Gatorade BadgerMax. Right now, Showalter has a ways to go and Koenig will have to continue to be Wisconsin's ironman.