Wisconsin’s Big Ten Title Hopes Depend on a Healthy Bronson Koenig

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 17th, 2017

Wisconsin’s exclusion from the NCAA Selection Committee’s recent preview bracket left many analysts scratching their heads, especially those located in the upper Midwest. How could the Badgers — 21-3 and on top of the Big Ten — not even garner a top-four seed? Legitimate gripe or not, the consternation in Madison quickly shifted to a far more meaningful issue plaguing Wisconsin: Its offense simply hasn’t been very good lately, especially since point guard Bronson Koenig injured his calf in late January. After back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Michigan, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, while Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Ethan Happ can keep Greg Gard‘s offense afloat, a fully-healthy Koenig will be critical to their shot at a conference title.

Ethan Happ can only do so much for Wisconsin without Bronson Koenig. (Rick Osentoski / USA TODAY Sports)

Since Koenig tweaked his calf against Penn State on January 24 (a seemingly minor issue at the time), Wisconsin has simply not been the same team. In the seven games leading up to his injury, the Badgers scored more than a point per possession (PPP) in six of those, including a 1.23 PPP effort at Indiana and a 1.33 PPP performance against Ohio State. In the six games since his mishap, Wisconsin has reached that threshold just once, and hasn’t topped 1.03 PPP at all (well below its season average). On Thursday night against Michigan, Gard decided to rule out Koenig in order to give him some extra rest; predictably, Wisconsin’s stagnation continued.

But why, exactly? After all, the Badgers have two all-conference caliber forwards in Nigel Hayes (13.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Happ (14.2 PPG, 9.2 RPG), the latter of whom is undoubtedly the team’s best and most important offensive player. Entering Thursday night, Wisconsin was 16-0 when Happ finished the game with an offensive rating of 100.0 or better, and just 5-4 in games in which he didn’t. The 6’10” sophomore currently ranks among the Big Ten’s top-10 players in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, assist rate, block rate, steals rate and free throw rate. His 60.6 percent effective field goal percentage is also among the league’s best, and he currently ranks fifth overall in KenPom’s National Player of the Year standings. Put more plainly, he’s a statistical monster, adept at carving out space in the paint and capitalizing on mismatches. “Happ is as good a pure post player as I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said of the sophomore.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

Best-Case Scenario: Final Four Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Meet the Badgers: Who Will Step in for Departed Legends?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2015

Here’s what we think we know about the Wisconsin Badgers: We know that Nigel Hayes improved tremendously as a sophomore after a solid freshman campaign. The big forward developed a more well-rounded offensive game and became one of the better interior players in the Big Ten. We also know that point guard Bronson Koenig proved more than capable of running the show when starter Traveon Jackson missed 19 midseason games due to injury. Those two are poised to become two of the best players in the league. We also know that this season might be Bo Ryan’s last on the sidelines in Madison, although, then again, it might not be. In summation, we really don’t know all that much beyond those few things in the wake of Wisconsin’s historic run to the National Championship game. The questions about Ryan’s status will be answered in due time, but who specifically will be the replacements for all the players that are gone?

Nigel Hayes needs some help in the form of newcomers for Wisconsin to pick up where they left off in 2014-15 (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs some help in the form of newcomers for Wisconsin to pick up where it left off in 2014-15. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traveon Jackson, and Duje Dukan. Four seniors and a junior who played a rather large part in the Badgers’ 66-12 overall record during the last two seasons. That means there’s a whole lot of playing time and shots to be had. Ethan Happ may get the first crack at attempting to replace Kaminsky’s spot in the lineup. The redshirt freshman has used the education he learned on the scout team to become a much more polished player. In the team’s recent scrimmage against Wisconsin River-Falls, Happ notched a double-double in 19 minutes, going 7-of-9 from the field. He could become the top option in the post with Kaminsky now playing in Charlotte. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Big Ten Preview: The Top Tier (#7 – #1)

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2015

We continue our Big Ten microsite predictions and superlatives with the second half of our preseason standings. We presented our preseason standings with teams #14 – #8 on the microsite yesterday; today, we unveil the top half. These are the teams that we as a group believe will finish near or atop the league when all the dust settles and will result in the likely conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy!

It's Jarrod Uthoff's turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

It’s Jarrod Uthoff’s turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

  • 7. Iowa: With Aaron White now graduated, all eyes turn to senior Jarrod Uthoff to take the baton and lead the Hawkeyes to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament— something this program hasn’t accomplished since the early 1990s. With players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and an experienced backcourt to work with, Uthoff will have a supporting cast with enough talent to get it done.
  • 6. Michigan: The Wolverines are a talent-laden team with a number of players similar to Caris LeVert who fit perfectly into John Beilein’s prolific three-point offense. Both he and Derrick Walton were sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, which gave the rest of the young roster experience to draw from this year. Now fully healthy, Michigan is set up for a comeback campaign pushing toward the top of the Big Ten.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Wisconsin 79, #4 North Carolina 72

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015


Three Key Takeaways.

The Badgers Took a Hit For Most of the Game But Clamped Down Late to Move to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

The Badgers Took a Hit For Most of the Game But Clamped Down Late to Move to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. Just Needed A Spark. At the 11:11 mark in the second half, the whistle sounded a media timeout with Frank Kaminsky, having taken a hand to the face, laying on the ground in pain. With North Carolina slowly but surely extending a lead (att this point up to 53-46), this appeared to be an ominous sign. Kaminsky was helped off the court, bypassing the Wisconsin huddle in favor of a meeting with the trainer on the bench. After just one possession without him, the All-American re-entered and the Badgers reeled off a 10-4 run over the course of the next four minutes to finally build some momentum and get back within a point. From that point forward, the Badgers outscored the Tar Heels by 14 points; over the course of the 16 possessions from then until North Carolina went to its late-game fouling strategy, the Badgers scored 27 points, good for 1.69 points per possession.
  2. Not Vintage Kaminsky. Frank the Tank would up with 19 points and eight boards, basically his season averages, but tonight was by no means a great performance. He had some trouble with North Carolina’s size, but his early struggles (2-of-7 from the field for four points) had more to do with missed opportunities. He missed at least three layups in the first half and was getting beat up on the boards. In the second half, he worked on getting to the line (all eight of his free throws were after the break) and he spent some time dragging defenders out to the three-point line in pick-and-roll situations, opening up the interior for the rest of his team.
  3. Wisconsin’s Rebounding. The Badgers are not a team that kills people on the offensive glass. They’re a great offensive team because they shoot it really well, never turn it over, and run great offense. Offensive boards are usually an afterthought. However, tonight, when things weren’t coming easy, the Badgers pulled down 38.7 percent of offensive rebounding opportunities, extending possessions and earning 10 second-chance points. The Badgers were then able to exploit the type of matchup problems that they can create. As Roy Williams pointed out afterward, when the Tar Heels had a big lineup on the floor, Kaminsky could pull guys like Kennedy Meeks or Joel James away from the hoop. If UNC responded by going small, the Badgers then killed them on the glass. It takes a special collection of athletes to match up with these Badgers in a 40-minute game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Five Keys For Wisconsin Against North Carolina Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 26th, 2015


Lost in the anticipation of a Wisconsin vs. Arizona rematch in the Elite Eight is the fact that the Badgers still have to get there by beating a North Carolina unit that has played its best ball of the season since the calendar turned to March. While the Badgers are favored to win the game, it won’t be an walk in the park for a number of reasons. Here’s are five ways that Bo Ryan’s squad can keep things rolling against the Tar Heels in Los Angeles.

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina.  (AP)

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina. (AP)

  1. Control the Tempo: North Carolina likes to push the ball upcourt and get easy baskets in transition. They don’t necessarily do so by forcing a bunch of turnovers; rather, the Heels like to grab the ball off of either a make or a miss and run their patented secondary break. Wisconsin doesn’t get sped up too often but the Badgers still need to ensure that this remains a half-court game rather than a track meet. The days are gone when Wisconsin cannot keep up with the Tar Heels athletically, but it still doesn’t make sense to try to run with them. Half-court execution and good shot selection will win the day; the leadership and facilitation of Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson (assuming he plays) will be the keys here.
  2. Win the Battle of the Boards: Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding while North Carolina comes in fifth on the offensive glass. Roy Williams may be without its leader in this department with Kennedy Meeks and his 12.9 percent offensive rebounding rate potentially sidelined with a knee injury, but backup Isaiah Hicks (11.3%) is no slouch here either. Without anyone who can shoot consistently from deep, the Tar Heels’ best offense on many possessions is just to hit the boards. If the Badgers control the glass tonight, they can force a bunch of one-possession trips from the Heels and effectively shut down their offense. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Fresh Faces Emerging as Big Ten Injuries Pile Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

Big Ten training staffs have been working overtime this season, as many notable names have already missed significant time with injuries. Just last weekend, Aaron White, Robert Johnson, Bishop Daniels, Brandon Taylor, and Mike Williams all suffered various ailments that could result in missed action. This piles on to the already large injury toll suffered by conference teams, with Illinois (Rayvonte Rice), Indiana (Hanner Mosquera-Perea), Michigan (Caris LeVert), and Wisconsin (Traveon Jackson) all losing key starters for multiple games. Injuries, of course, are a part of the game, but it means that others must step in and make contributions in their absences. Here’s a look at how some of these Big Ten understudies have performed with the resulting boost in minutes they’ve received.

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

  • Illinois has gone 3-3 since its star Rayvonte Rice went down in practice. The senior had been logging 11.1 shots per game before his injury, and his primary replacement, Kendrick Nunn, has barely left the court since (36.2 MPG in the six games that Rice hasn’t played). The sophomore has been productive in his absence, though, contributing 16.7 PPG along with 4.5 RPG and 1.3 SPG. Rice’s biggest improvement had been shooting from deep, where he got off to an insane 29-for-60 start, but Nunn has been equally adept from three-point range, making 18-of-39 attempts in six games. On balance, Nunn has effectively matched Rice’s production, but Illinois’ main problem right now is depth. Without Rice and with Aaron Cosby (also sidelined), John Groce is pretty much running a seven-man rotation right now. Should Nunn or forward Malcolm Hill struggle offensively, there really aren’t many other options.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Weekly Five: 09.14.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on September 14th, 2012

  1. Midnight Madness is less than six weeks away. As most of the coaches prepare for the upcoming season, the players are trying to get back into game shape. ESPN caught up with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo recently to get an update on some of his players, specifically Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson. Dawson, who tore his ACL last March, has been practicing “at about 95 percent” according to Izzo but he believes that it will take some time for him to get his conditioning back. Michigan State’s non-conference schedule is as usual not very forgiving, highlighted by key match-ups against Kansas and Connecticut. A healthier Dawson especially on the defensive end would add tremendous value to the Spartans during the Big Ten season if he can use the preseason to get used to the tempo of the game. Izzo also spoke highly of freshman Gary Harris, a 6’4″ guard who is a five-star prospect, specifically pointing out his defensive abilities. As Dawson continues to improve, Harris may be earn some playing time especially if he can step into the role of a defensive stopper for Izzo.  
  2. Speaking of off-season training regiments, Bo Ryan‘s program includes “The Hill,” which has been part Badger basketball tradition for a few years in Madison. Every fall, the Wisconsin roster trains on the hill in Platteville, Wisconsin, where Ryan began his coaching career way back in 1984. The coaching staff believes that the hill training not only adds physical conditioning but also serves as a great team-building activity and improves the overall mental toughness as the rigors of class and practice take over during the fall. Ryan has been known for “eccentric training” techniques over the years, which have clearly paid off as Badger basketball has established itself as a perennial top team in the Big Ten and produced eight consecutive NCAA appearances. Freshman phenom Sam Dekker got his first taste of the hill recently and had a few comments about the training program. Dekker, a 6’7″ wing and former top 25 recruit, has high expectations due to his athleticism and shooting range as the Badger fans hope for another NCAA appearance and a strong finish in conference play.
  3. Northwestern’s Bill Carmody added more size to his roster as 6’10” forward Aaron Liberman will join the Wildcats for the upcoming season. Liberman averaged 17.4 PPG, 12.3 RPG and 8.7 BPG during his senior season in 2010-11. He has been studying in Israel and should be able to earn playing time fairly quickly as the Wildcats have a need for skilled size in the paint. Northwestern ranked 11th in the conference in terms of offensive rebounding percentage (25.6%) and got hammered on the defensive boards consistently by the likes of Jared Sullinger and Cody Zeller last season. The departure of senior forward Luka Mirkovic (3.8 RPG) gives an opportunity for freshmen such as Liberman and Chier Ajou (7’2″ center) to step up and control the paint, at least on the defensive end. Jared Swopshire, the 6’8″ forward who transferred from Louisville ought to help out with the rebounding as well as he averaged 6.8 RPG during the 2009-10 season before a spate of injuries. 
  4. Transitioning from freshmen to established Big Ten veterans, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas has been named to the preseason All-America list by Blue Ribbon for the upcoming season. Thomas will lead the Buckeyes after taking a backseat to Jared Sullinger during the last two seasons. He saw a huge improvement from his freshman to sophomore season as his scoring increased from 7.5 PPG to 15.9 PPG and hopes to take his game to the elite level during his junior year. Buckeye fans do not expect him to skip a beat offensively but hope that he improves his shot selection (only 34% 3FG) and become a leader on the court along with fellow junior Aaron Craft. Thomas is accompanied by Indiana forward Cody Zeller on the preseason All-America list from the Big Ten. 
  5. The preseason NIT Tip-Off schedule has been announced and Michigan will be representing the Big Ten as one of the top seeds in November. John Beilein’s squad will be accompanied by Virginia, Kansas State and Pittsburgh as the other potential favorites to win the annual event. As always, the preliminary rounds will be held on campus and the semifinals along with the championship game will be held in Madison Square Garden on November 23. With three key returning players for the Wolverines – Trey Burke (14.8 PPG), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (14.6 PPG), and Jordan Morgan (5.6 RPG), Michigan appears to be the favorite to win the Tip-Off this year. Pittsburgh hopes to rebound from a rough season per their normal standards but the Woverines’ versatility combined with incoming freshmen Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson III should be too much to overcome as Beilein hopes to make the Final Four with his talented squad next season. 
Share this story