Bronson Koenig

Associated Press

No. 17 Wisconsin struggles in tight loss to Western Illinois

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Even with the major personnel losses incurred after last season’s national title game loss to Duke, the general consensus regarding No. 17 Wisconsin was that head coach Bo Ryan would be able to figure things out. Since Ryan took over in Madison in 2001, the Badgers have finished no worse than fourth in the Big Ten standings in any year. And with guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes back, Friday’s opener against Western Illinois didn’t appear to be all that dangerous.

But looks can be deceiving, as the Leathernecks hung around throughout and ultimately won 69-67 on two Garret Covington free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining. Koenig’s mid-range jumper in the final seconds missed the mark, giving WIU their first win over a Big Ten opponent since 1994.

JC Fuller, who made all four of his three-pointers, led the winners with 20 points with Covington (whose sister is a member of the Wisconsin women’s basketball team) adding 16 and Jabari Sandifer 12.

While Wisconsin’s offensive numbers were certainly a concern, as they shot 35.5 percent from the field and 7-for-21 from three, the Badgers also struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Western Illinois shot 54 percent from the field and 7-for-9 from beyond the arc, scoring 30 points in the paint. Given Wisconsin’s need to find consistent scoring options to supplement the efforts of Koenig and Hayes (17 points apiece), how they perform on the defensive end will be critical as this group develops.

As for the offensive showing, Wisconsin did get 11 points and five rebounds from Vitto Brown and he’s one of the players they’ll need to step up in light of the departures of Sam Dekker, Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky. But of the six players to attempt at least six shots for Wisconsin only one, Koenig (7-for-15) shot close to 50 percent from the field.

The Badgers did manage to post an offensive rebounding percentage close to 50 percent (47.7 to be exact), they only outscored Western Illinois by five points (17-12) in the second chance points category. Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas were responsible for ten of Wisconsin’s 21 offensive rebounds, but what the Badgers did (or didn’t do) with those extra possessions proved to be the difference.

Their struggles in making shots prevented the Badgers from cashing in on those second-chance opportunities, and had they been able to do so at a higher rate there’s no talk about a surprising home defeat.

Obviously there’s still plenty of basketball to be played this season, so there’s no need for Badger fans to panic. But if anything was learned Friday night, it’s that this Wisconsin team has a lot to figure out on both ends of the floor as they look to account for the departure of a special group.

VIDEO: Nigel Hayes’ game-winner caps Wisconsin scrimmage

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Sunday afternoon Wisconsin held its annual Red vs. White Scrimmage at the Kohl Center, giving fans their first look at a team that will look far different from the one that made two consecutive Final Four appearances (runners-up last season). Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson have all moved on, leaving juniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes as the leaders for Bo Ryan’s 2015-16 squad.

It would be Hayes who provided the end of game heroics Sunday, as his contested step-back three from the left corner in the final seconds gave the Red team a 47-45 victory over the White. They had a little help down the stretch too, as a dubious technical foul was assessed to make it a one-possession affair ahead of Hayes’ game-winner.

Zak Showalter led the winning team with 11 points and two assists, with freshman Andy Van Vliet chipping in with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks in his Kohl Center debut. Koenig paced the White team with a game-high 14 points to go along with three rebounds and three assists, and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ chipped in with eight points and eight rebounds.

Wisconsin, which has finished no worse than tied for fourth in the Big Ten since Ryan took over as head coach, opens its regular season November 13 against Western Illinois. Above are highlights from the scrimmage, along with Ryan’s explanation of the technical foul, courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics.

Wisconsin regroups, welcomes newcomers after 2 Final Fours

Associated Press
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan groaned when he thought back to passing drills on the first day of preseason practice.

So many new faces, so many mistakes.

“I was afraid someone was going to get hurt,” Ryan said at the team’s media day Thursday. “There were five or six guys out there that hadn’t been in the drills that hadn’t seen them.”

There is quite a different dynamic from last season’s veteran, fun-loving squad.

The trusted senior backcourt of Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson is gone. Sam Dekker is in the NBA after being drafted in the first round by the Houston Rockets.

And no more Frank Kaminsky, the 7-foot ringleader, anchoring the middle. The Wooden Award winner as the top college player was drafted by Charlotte.

They were the four leaders of teams that went to back-to-back Final Fours, and had a school-record 36 wins last season.

This new group is still getting used to each to other.

“It was weird, man,” said forward Vitto Brown, recounting the first day that the Badgers gathered as a team. The nameplates on the lockers belonging to the storied departing class were empty.

“Now that they’re gone, it was like, `Who’s there?”” Brown recalled.

Well, Ryan, for starters. Given another opportunity to talk about his future after this season, Ryan passed.

“There are no guarantees out there. For me to even take 2 seconds about later just takes away from the job that I can do with these young men,” Ryan said.

He had announced in June that he planned to retire at the end of the season. Two months later, Ryan left open the possibility of staying beyond this season.

Last week at Big Ten media day, Ryan didn’t rule out coaching beyond this season.

On Thursday, his focus was trained on the immediate future.

“I don’t know what else he would do besides coach,” forward Nigel Hayes said.

The junior with the affinity for NCAA tournament stenographers is the leading returning scorer after averaging 12.4 points. Hayes said he has worked on all facets of his game this offseason. Ryan wants Hayes to get to the foul line more and to be more assertive.

“He needs to make sure that what he does is scrutinized even more now because …. all eyes are on him from his teammates,” Ryan said. “His leadership skills will be on display, every drill he does in practice when it comes to his teammates.”

It’s a role that Hayes has already relished, Ryan said. Another junior, lightning-quick point guard Bronson Koenig (8.7 points), is the other returning starter who will be counted on to set the tone for the youthful roster.

Brown and Zak Showalter, two juniors who had moments coming off the bench, are also back. They’ll assume more responsibility this year.

And that’s it from last year’s nine-deep rotation, which means a lot more teachable moments for newcomers. That means some growing pains for Wisconsin at the season’s outset.

The starting lineup isn’t already set, unlike last year’s star-studded group. Beyond Hayes and Koenig, and Brown and Showalter to a lesser extent, there will be jostling for roles on the depth chart.

“I’m not Santa Claus with a bag of minutes over my shoulder, ready to give them out,” Ryan said gruffly. “I don’t give them out – they’re earned.”

Online:

AP College Basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/

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Looking Forward: Potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at potential breakout stars:

Grayson Allen, Duke: The argument could be make that Allen has already broken out. That’s what happens when a freshman goes from struggling to get off of Duke’s bench to being arguably their most important player in a come-from-behind win in the national title game. Allen is going to once again have his work cut out for him getting playing time — that’s what happens when three five-star perimeter players join the program — but he should be Coach K’s best slasher next season.

Malik Pope, San Diego State: Pope’s tools are off the charts. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing with length, athleticism and three-point range. He finally got healthy midway through his freshman season, and proceeded to put together a handful of dominant performances for the Aztecs last season. If he adds some strength, improves his consistency and — most importantly — stays healthy, we could be looking at a lottery pick.

Isaac Copeland, Georgetown: Copeland is such a skilled forward. In addition to being 6-foot-8 and athletic, Copeland is the kind of versatile offensive talent that usually thrives under John Thompson III. With the Hoyas losing Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins, there are going to be front court minutes for the taking.

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson flashed some of his ability during last year’s NCAA tournament, but the fact of the matter is that the talented and athletic point guard was the fourth-best player on the Irish as a sophomore. Don’t be surprised to see him become an all-american as a junior as he takes over Jerian Grant’s role.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl could have been a lottery pick had he decided to go to the NBA this spring. Instead, Larry Krystkowiak will have a chance to work his magic with the Austrian big man for an entire offseason. Poeltl’s potential is very high, and while he was inconsistent as a freshman, Poeltl was fantastic in the month of March.

Marcus Lee, Kentucky: Will Marcus Lee finally get his chance this season? The former top 30 recruit has proven to be effective in the limited minutes that he has played the last two season, but his minutes have been understandably limited during his time in Lexington. He may not be Willie Cauley-Stein or Karl Towns, but Lee should be an excellent sidekick to Skal Labissiere in Kentucky’s front court.

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig was brilliant when he got the chance to replace the injured Traevon Jackson as Bo Ryan’s primary point guard midway through the season. With the Badgers losing so much this offseason, Koenig and Nigel Hayes will be tasked with keeping the Badgers in the Big Ten’s top four.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is the typical power wing that Jay Wright has been so successsful with over the years. He’s a better scorer than he gets credit for and is a terrific defender and offensive rebounder. Hart should end up being an all-Big East player this season.

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks reclassified in the spring and enrolled at Oregon a year earlier than initially expected, and it ended up being fantastic for Dana Altman, as Brooks was, at times, Oregon’s best player. Expect more of the same from him as a sophomore.

Jonathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was just a three-star recruit when he arrived in Waco, but the athletic, 6-foot-10 center had some truly dominating performances during the year. Motley, teaming with Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, will give the Bears one of the nation’s best front lines.

Ben Bentil, Providence: Bentil was fantastic for the Friars for stretches late in the season, and with LaDontae Henton graduating, there will shots and rebounds available for Bentil to collect.

Wisconsin point guard expects to return from foot injury Thursday night

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LOS ANGELES — No. 1 Wisconsin’s 67-62 loss at Rutgers in mid-January was a notable result for multiple reasons. First, there was the matter that the Scarlet Knights didn’t win a single conference game from that point forward. Also of note from that Sunday night in New Jersey was the fact that Bo Ryan’s team was hit hard by the injury bug.

Frank Kaminsky was sidelined due to a concussion, and senior point guard Traevon Jackson broke a bone in his right foot in the second half due to an awkward landing after challenging a shot. Jackson hasn’t played since that game, and on Wednesday he stated that he’s going to return to the court Thursday night when the Badgers take on No. 4 North Carolina in Los Angeles.

“I’m sure there will be some nerves,” Jackson said. “Other than that, it should be fine. I’ve been playing this game for too long to have nervousness on the court. It’s a joy to be back on the court.”

Since Jackson went down with the injury sophomore point guard Bronson Koenig’s moved into the starting role and has played well for the Badgers. In the 19 games Wisconsin’s played since Jackson injured his foot (team record: 18-1), Koenig’s averaged 12.0 points, 2.6 assists and 1.2 turnovers per contest. With Wisconsin having multiple players capable of setting up teammates within their offense via the pass, the assists tend to be spread out rather evenly.

Jackson averages a team-high 2.9 assists per game, with three other players (Koenig, Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes) averaging at least 2.1 per contest. The question ahead of Thursday’s contest is just how much Jackson will play, and whether or not it will be as a starter or reserve.

Jackson did participate in the team’s open practice, but head coach Bo Ryan said it remains to be seen what his senior guard would be capable of in a full contact situation before knowing how much he’ll play. And he didn’t sound too worried about Jackson either.

“We’ll see what he gets in today, but you don’t see me agonizing over it,” Ryan said during his press conference. “But if he’s physically capable of being on the court, he deserves some time because I’m going to reward him for working so hard in the rehab and getting back because he deserves it.

“Now how many possessions or how many trips up and down the court, that remains to be seen. But no one is agonizing about it over here.”

Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson still hasn’t been cleared for practice

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Traevon Jackson has missed the last 11 games for No. 5 Wisconsin.

On Sunday, the Badgers host Michigan State, in what will be the last game inside the Kohl Center for seniors Jackson, Frank Kaminsky and Duje Dukan. However, Jackson has yet to be cleared to practice, according to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Jackson has been out since Jan. 12 with a fractured right foot, suffered in Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers. With Jackson out of the lineup, sophomore guard Bronson Koenig has been inserted into the starting lineup, averaging 12.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game during that stretch. Jackson was posted averages of 9.4 points and 2.9 assists a night prior to his injury.

In his absence the Badgers are 10-1 with that lone loss coming this past Tuesday against No. 14 Maryland. The Badgers are currently projected as a No. 2 seed in College Basketball Talk‘s latest bracket.