Bronson Koenig, then a freshman reserve, was held to one point by Michigan State in his most recent game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Other than that Big Ten tournament semifinal loss two years ago, however, Koenig has had a knack for coming up big this time of year. Wisconsin's junior point guard has averaged over 17 points and posted a 3.75-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his other four conference tournament games.
Koenig was on a shooting spree heading into last weekend's Purdue game, having connected on half of his three-point attempts since February began. Newly anointed head coach Greg Gard, for one, is hoping Koenig's 2-for-9 long-distance performance against the Boilermakers was merely the calm before another March flurry.
The Badgers (20-11) return to Indianapolis on Thursday as the No. 6 seed in the 2016 Big Ten tournament, where they will face Nebraska in a second-round match-up. The 11th-seeded Cornhuskers (15-17) advanced Wednesday with a 89-72 win over Rutgers.
Nebraska ended its regular season on a five-game skid and appear doomed to finish under .500 for the second straight year under Tim Miles. Their next loss will signal the end of a great career for Nebraska senior Shavon Shields, who missed four games earlier this season -- including Nebraska's 72-61 loss in Madison -- due to a concussion. Shields was a second-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and a third-team pick by the media after averaging 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He also repeated as a first-team Academic All-American.
Shields was the highest usage player in the Big Ten this season, so you can see why the Cornhuskers might not have been the same without him when facing the Badgers previously. Miles chose to play primarily zone against Wisconsin in February, and the tactic was effective early on. But once the Badgers settled in, the Huskers stood little chance without their top gun. Newcomer Andrew White III, who leads Nebraska in points, rebounds and three-point shooting this season, was effectively shut down by Nigel Hayes and the Badger defense.
Perhaps Wisconsin's offense can get back on the right track against the Huskers yet again.
Back on Feb. 10, the Badgers put together their most effective long-distance shooting display of the season when they sank 11-of-18 (61.1%) treys against Nebraska. Vitto Brown put on a performance for his own highlight reel with 18 points, 5 rebounds and a perfect 3-for-3 mark on threes. Hayes finished with a game-high 20 points, but was more of a facilitator against the zone.
Koenig went 3-for-4 behind the arc himself. Three-point shooting has never been about volume for Koenig, like it is for Michigan State's Bryn Forbes for instance, but more about consistency and timeliness. Koenig must ramp up his assertiveness from the jump when the team reaches the win-or-go-home stage.
Gard will be looking for continued consistency from Ethan Happ in the post during his first postseason experience. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year had arguably his worst game of the year against the Cornhuskers when he was held without a bucket. If Nebraska reverts back to man-to-man defense as expected this time around, Happ should find more room to operate.
Nebraska converted tons of points of turnovers in the first half against the Scarlet Knight and pounded the paint for scoring opportunities. Five Huskers scored in double-figures, including 6'8" freshman Michael Jacobson's 14. However, none of the Nebraska big men have been anywhere near consistent enough to match up with Hayes and Happ down low.
While the previous meeting was not a fair fight from Nebraska's perspective, Miles sarcastically hoped another intangible would swing his way in the rematch.
"It's Greg Gard's first day on the job officially, so I'm sure he will be nervous," Miles said Wednesday night, "and hopefully we can take advantage of that."
Sadly, viewers won't be treated to another glorious throwback uniform clash either. Instead Wisconsin and Nebraska will again showcase the worst designs Adidas has to offer in the form of the 2016 Made In March uniforms.