The Wisconsin Badgers have advanced to their second consecutive Final Four. As a result, they will have the daunting task of trying to upset the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.
This is the second straight year the Badgers and Wildcats have squared off in the national semifinals. While Wisconsin wasn’t successful in last year’s matchup, they are ready to avenge their defeat.
With Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes leading the Badgers offensive assault, the team has one of the best starting lineups in college basketball.
A big part of that first five was starting point guard Traevon Jackson. However, he succumbed to injury in mid-January, and Wisconsin was left without a true starting point guard.
Fortunately, the Badgers are an incredibly deep team, and coach Bo Ryan was able to reload with sophomore Bronson Koenig. The results have been promising, as Koenig has done a bang-up job filling in for the injured Jackson.
Koenig wasn’t a simple desperation play by Bo Ryan, he was already one of his most trusted players.
During his freshman season Koenig averaged 15.5 minutes per game, the second most amongst all Wisconsin reserves. While he only averaged 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds a game Koenig earned his stripes, and most of all respect.
The defining moment of Keonig’s first year with the Badgers might be the key factor in Saturdays matchup against Kentucky.
During the 2014 Final Four, Koenig put up 11 points against the Wildcats. While all of his points came during the first half, he left his impact on the game. Now that Koenig is the team’s starter he will have the ball in his hands from the games onset, and will look to be a factor for all 40 minutes.
With Kaminsky definitely leaving for the NBA and Dekker likely to follow, Koenig has a chance to become the Badgers most reliable playmaker, something which the sophomore guard has excelled at during his tenure as the team’s starter.
“He understands the responsibility he has,” Jackson told SI.com. “I can just see it. He understands it now — what he does as the head of the team, with the ball in his hands most of the time, he has to be that rock.”
The former Wisconsin High School Basketball Player Of the Year averaged 17.0 points, 4.4 assists, and shot 45.5 percent from three during his senior year of high school. These numbers would indicate that Koenig is more than capable of fitting in with a Bo Ryan style offense.
What many don’t know about Koenig is his Native American descent. In fact, he is a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe. Koenig hopes his success can encourage other members of his tribe to strive for something greater, as he told SI.com.
“It made me realize how much of an inspiration I can really be. With the reservations they live on, and the high crime rates, and suicide and alcoholism, it’s definitely important for them to have somebody to look up to. I hope I can kind of inspire them to get off those reservations, expand their horizons and become athletes themselves.”
Koenig doesn’t want to just inspire his Native American brethren, but also his Badger teammates. He is a member of one of the best Wisconsin team’s in coach Bo Ryan’s tenure at the school, and with an undefeated Kentucky squad primed and ready to take on all comers, the Badgers need to be in tip-top shape.
If last year’s Final Four was any indication, then Bronson Koenig will assuredly be up to the challenge.