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Wisconsin's bench production lagging behind expectations

The Badgers' bench has struggled on both offense and defense since Bronson Koenig was forced into the starting lineup.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Since Traevon Jackson fractured his foot in the loss to Rutgers on January 11, the consensus is the bench has been in an awful offensive slump and hasn't been able to produce much quality play on the defensive end either.

In my analysis of Wisconsin's three primary bench contributors since Bronson Koenig's promotion to the starting point guard position, the consensus is right. Wisconsin needs at least one of these guys to to step up in the next week to get the two wins needed to clinch an outright Big Ten title.

I will present each player in order of minutes played.

Duje Dukan

There were big expectations for Dukan this year, but his play has taken a serious decline as his three-point shot has been rimming out over and over this season. The big man hasn't nailed a three-pointer in the last four games and the last shot from behind the arc to fall for the Deerfield, Illinois native was in the Nebraska game on February 10. He has shot an abysmal 29.5 percent this season from deep, which is a significant drop from his 36.6 percent last season.

Dukan's poor play hasn't helped the Badgers retain their firepower off the bench. Even though he has played more this season, being in the game for more than double the amount of minutes than he was during the Badger's Final Four run last year, Dukan has averaged only 3.1 points per game since the Rutgers loss. In three of the 11 games he failed to score a point. He is also averaging a miserable 1.8 boards each game, evidence that he has struggled to grab rebounds, an important quality that Bo Ryan likes to see in each Badger basketball player.

Games played Mins MPG Points Points-per-minute (PPM)
Before Rutgers 14/16 267 19.1 90 0.34
Rutgers & beyond 12/12 171 14.3 37 0.22

Zak Showalter

Showalter's increased responsibility as a second-string combo guard has yielded no improvement on offense from the Germantown native. The redshirt sophomore has averaged a little over nine minutes per game in that time and has only contributed 1.4 points a game. Since his nine-point explosion against Indiana, it is embarrassing how inactive he has been in the scoring category, unable to score a point in the last six games. Although he has been a solid defender, Showalter needs to show a better ability to hit open shots. The Badgers don't necessarily need Showalter to be an offensive force of the bench this season, but it would be nice to see a more production from him as he will likely occupy a starting spot next season, pairing up with the adept scorer in Koenig.

Showalter's defense and low turnover rate are what has been so intriguing and it reminds me a bit of Josh Gasser. He may not possess the half court stingy defense that Gasser has, but he may be the better guard when defending in transition, using swift shifts to get in the driving opposing players lane, often leading to charges or mishandled shots. He can use his great athleticism to his advantage on both sides of the ball. He will become more accurate with his deep time over time, hopefully sooner than later.

Games played Mins MPG Points PPM
Before Rutgers 12/16 75 6.3 34 0.45
Rutgers & beyond 12/12 111 9.3 18 0.16

Vitto Brown

While Vitto Brown has been known for showing off his jump shot, he's never been quite as famous for making his jump shot. That hasn't improved too much in a limited role this year. However, his confidence in his mid-range shooting is something that will help him in the future, as the great coaching staff that the Badgers possess will help him develop a consistent jumper.

Since the Rutgers loss, Brown has averaged 4.2 minutes per night -- down from 9.7 through that game -- so he hasn't been utilized much this season. Brown has been able to produce some quality minutes for Bo Ryan, however you see that too often he gets overpowered while defending the basket and is prone to allowing some offensive rebounds to the opposing team. He has a knack for fouling that has only intensified since he's faced better competition. Brown has the ability to grab second chance points on the other end, but he's has only one rebound since Jackson's injury decreased his minutes.

Games played Mins MPG Points PPM
Before Rutgers 15/16 136 8.5 44 0.32
Rutgers & beyond 12/12 57 4.8 14 0.25


As you see, supported by the statistics, the Badgers bench cannot be considered a strength of this talented basketball team. And the fact of the matter is, they don't have to be. The starting five for Wisconsin is as skilled and experienced as any in the nation. With the addition of either Bronson Koenig coming back to second string, or Traevon Jackson, this unit will improve tremendously on both sides of the court. Both guards bring a great sense of leadership and offensive versatility, as both possess a deadly jump shot and great driving capabilities.

Dukan brings a lot of experience to the floor, and although he is in a big offensive slump right now, expect him to snap out of his funk when March comes around. More consistent playing time for sophomores Showalter and Brown will aid the Badgers in the future, even if it is not pretty right now. Wisconsin's bench production has dipped, but their lack of offensive and defensive versatility will not hinder this team's chance at a deep run in March.


Phil Mitten contributed to this story.