Wisconsin favored, flawed

The Badgers enter on a tear but have shown a major weakness this year.

Minnesota guard Nate Mason drives the ball to the basket in the second half against the Badgers on Feb. 21 in Madison, Wis.

Image by Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota guard Nate Mason drives the ball to the basket in the second half against the Badgers on Feb. 21 in Madison, Wis.

by Jack Satzinger

Wisconsin has been stellar this season behind player-of-the-year candidate Frank Kaminsky and the team’s experienced supporting cast.

Heading into the postseason, the Badgers appear poised to take home the Big Ten tournament title, and they have as good of a chance as any team at winning the Big Dance.

But despite their depth, Kaminsky’s star power, a surgical offense and tidy buzz cuts, the Badgers have one fatal flaw.

Neither of Wisconsin’s point guards, Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson, have been able to stay in front of its talented counterparts defensively.

Overall, Koenig has performed well as Jackson’s replacement, putting together a string of double-digit scoring performances. Still, a collection of games show where the Badgers may be most vulnerable.

In Minnesota’s loss at Wisconsin last month, Gophers freshman point guard Nate Mason tallied 11 points off 5-for-11 shooting along with five assists.

“Nate showed that he can be a really good guard,” head coach Richard Pitino said after the loss.

While Mason’s statistics from that contest aren’t eye-popping, they’re better than his season averages. Moreover, when Wisconsin topped Minnesota last week, Mason was the most impressive Gophers player on the court, scoring 15 points off 50 percent shooting.

“Coach has been talking to me about being more aggressive,” Mason said after the game.

A few weeks before, Koenig had an off night, shooting 2-for-12 when Wisconsin lost at ranked Maryland. His poor defense on star Terrapins guard Melo Trimble, who finished with 16 points, stuck out in the 59-53 defeat.

Trimble juked Koenig with 2.5 seconds left on the clock in the first half to get open for a layup that stretched Maryland’s advantage to 11 points entering the break. As the game progressed, Koenig was clearly overmatched, and senior defensive specialist Josh Gasser switched with him to match up with Trimble.

The only other game Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2 Big Ten) has lost this season with Kaminsky in the lineup was against Duke in December. The contest turned into Minnesota native Tyus Jones’ freshman coming-out party, as he shot 7-for-11 for a team-high 22 points along with six rebounds and four assists with just one turnover.

Though he was thrown into the difficult role of starting point guard for a team with title aspirations, Koenig has played well. But his .26 steals per game average — lower than Gophers’ center Elliott Eliason’s — quantifies his tough time defending good guards.

After Kaminsky scored a game-high 25 points to beat Minnesota last Thursday, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said there’s “no ceiling” to the 7-foot center’s success and where it could take the team.

But the Badgers’ point guard defense could very well be their floor.