First he hit the game-tying three from back in Madison. Then, he hit the step-back, fade-away winner, sending the Scottrade Center into a frenzy. Wisconsin isn’t in the Sweet 16 if it isn’t for Bronson Koenig. There are no repeated replays of the buzzer beater from the far corner if it isn’t for Bronson Koenig. Bill Murray isn’t left scratching his head if it isn’t for Bronson Koenig. But who is the guy who put the Badgers on his back and stunningly lifted them over Xavier? Most people probably don’t realize it, but he’s been part of the Wisconsin starting five since the midpoint of last season, his name overshadowed by those of Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Last year, Koenig became the starting point guard for the final 24 games and averaged 11.5 points per game while shooting 40.5 from downtown. Not bad for a guy who just left his seat on the bench.
Koenig is a home-grown product, born and raised in La Crosse, Wisconsin, just 140 miles from Wisconsin’s campus in Madison. He is actually of Native American descent, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe. Talk about representing your group well. Koenig was named Wisconsin High School Player of the Year by the AP during his senior year when he averaged 17 points and 4.4 assists at Aquinas High School in La Crosse. He shot a deadly 45.5 percent from three and led Aquinas to its second Division 3 state championship and was also a 2013 McDonald’s All-American game nominee.
As a freshman, Koenig appeared in 37 games averaging just under 16 minutes per game and former Badgers Coach Bo Ryan knew he had something special on his hands when tournament time came around. In the 2014 Big Ten quarters against Minnesota he scored 14 points and in the National Semifinals against Kentucky in the 2014 Final Four he poured in 11 points in just the first half.
Koenig broke out in his sophomore year, returning with the Badgers to consecutive Final Fours. An injury to senior Traevon Jackson opened the door to starting Point Guard and Koenig grabbed hold of it and wouldn’t let it go. He finished the season with a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, best in the Big Ten among players with at least 90 assists. Koenig again found himself heating up at the right time, bursting onto the national scene with a career-high 19 points against Purdue and 18 against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. On Wisconsin’s march to the National Championship Game, Koenig added 12 points vs. Oregon, 12 more in the upset of Kentucky in the National Semifinal and 10 points in the loss to Duke in the natty.
Koenig is now a junior and will likely be returning for his senior year once Wisconsin’s tournament runs comes to an end, and he’s finally making a name for himself. Badger faithful well know who he is, but for the average college basketball fan, the only player on this Wisconsin team is Nigel Hayes, who played an integral part in getting Wisconsin to where they were last year. Now that Koenig is out of the shadows of Frank the Tank and Dekker, it’s his team. So far in this NCAA tourney, Hayes is a head-scratching 7-42 from the field and it’s been Koenig making the timely shots, drawing the charges and grabbing the key rebound that have gotten these Badgers, doubted by many, into the Sweet 16 and ready to go further. The 2015-2016 Badger campaign was marked with much uncertainty. Much of last year’s first-class talent left for the NBA and longtime Coach Bo Ryan abruptly retired mid-season. The Badgers were 9-9 and not looking like a tournament team. But, as the team got acclimated to former assistant and new Head Coach Greg Gard and his swing offense, Koenig, Hayes, Zack Showalter, Vitto Brown and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ began to develop chemistry and finished the regular season 11-3, giving them a 20-12 record, enough to spot a 7-seed in the Big Dance.
Tonight the Badgers take on Notre Dame and Koenig will be directing all the traffic, dishing out assists and taking many of Wisconsin’s three-point attempts. If they are to move on to the Elite 8, Koenig must be sharp. But, he’s up to the challenge. He’s been along for the rides and if this year isn’t the year of the Badger, next year might be. Koenig will return a senior along with possibly Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ and others will have had another year of development, there are some good recruits flocking to Madison and Greg Gard will actually be coaching a full season. With Koenig at the helm, Badger fans have to be hopeful.