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Without a healthy Bronson Koenig, the Badgers are just another average team.

Deep postseason run unlikely without a healthy Bronson Koenig, up and down starting debut for D’Mitrik Trice and more

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Today is Friday, Feb. 17, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.

Help needed

Without a healthy Bronson Koenig, the Badgers have no shot at winning the Big Ten or making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s been made painfully clear in the six games since Wisconsin’s point guard suffered a calf strain against Penn State. Since then, including a 64-58 loss to Michigan on Thursday night, the 11th-ranked Badgers have managed to hit the 60-point mark in regulation only once. It’s even worse when you consider the 38.5 percent shooting against the Wolverines was the fourth straight game at less than 40 percent, the first time that’s happened in 13 years for Wisconsin.

Koenig was definitely part of the problem in the previous five games, a stretch where he hit just 7 of 31 from beyond the arc. But that was an injured Koenig, not the guy who has shot at nearly a 40 percent clip for his career. That’s the guy Wisconsin desperately needs back in its lineup. So the fact he was forced to sit on Thursday after not being medically cleared should set off alarms among Badgers fans for what Wisconsin’s season is rapidly becoming.

What many hoped would be a run to a third Final Four in the last four seasons, and a second Big Ten title in the last three seasons, has been replaced by the fear of an early NCAA Tournament exit with one of the most experienced teams Wisconsin has ever put on the floor.

The only way that doesn’t come to fruition is for Koenig to return to the form he showed for the first 20 games of the season. Short of that happening and this year will be looked back at as a ‘what-if’ as opposed to any actual accomplishments.

Shaky debut

D’Mitrik Trice promised to be more aggressive and not shy away from the moment prior to making his first career start against Michigan on Thursday night. Taking the injured Koenig’s spot in the lineup, Trice more than followed through with his promise, but it didn’t have the result he was probably hoping for, despite a stat line that included 5 rebounds, 4 assists and just 2 turnovers.

In losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, the Badgers saw the true freshman hoist up 15 shots, the most of anyone on the court. And unlike Ethan Happ, who was an efficient 10 of 13, Trice managed to connect on just 2 of his shots.

It certainly wasn’t the effort Trice wanted when he learned he’d be just the fifth true freshman since 2000 to start a game for Wisconsin. He was extremely confident when talking with reporters earlier in the week and couldn’t wait for his chance to run the offense. But, like a kid learning to ride a bicycle for the first time, there were more wipeouts than successes.

Wisconsin was asking a lot of Trice to fill the shoes of Koenig and he was unable to do so. That’s not to say he won’t be a great player because of what happened on Thursday night, but it did suggest he’s got a ways to go to become the playmaker the Badgers desperately need right now.

Who’s next?

Spring practice will open in less than month for Wisconsin, so in the days and weeks leading up to the first of 15 sessions, we’re looking at the most crucial questions facing the Badgers.

Who’s next along the defensive line?

No position on the Wisconsin roster is more experienced than the defensive line. With three seniors in Chikwe Obasih, Alec James and Conor Sheehy, along with junior Olive Sagapolu, the Badgers are well-situated up front. So while you certainly want to see them continue to make strides, the spring will also be a vital time to identify the next crop of players that could be forced into duty as the result of injuries, as well as make up the line in future years.

Sophomore Garrett Rand didn’t see the field a ton as a true freshman, but his future is bright. One of the strongest players on team (he bench pressed more than 500 pounds in high school), the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Rand is still learning the nose tackle spot after playing in a 4-3 defense as a prep. The hope for Rand is that he can be a utility guy for defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield, with the ability to play the nose as well as defensive end.

Billy Hirschfeld is the only other player with meaningful game experience after being forced into action when Obasih, James and Sheehy got dinged up at the end of last season. More of a space eater than play maker, his spring could revolve around becoming a better pass rusher. Considering his 6-6 height, Hirschfeld could make for a menacing presence in the quarterback’s face.

Beyond those two, though, it’s a mesh of bodies that either haven’t distinguished themselves or haven’t had the opportunity to do so. The most intriguing is Isaiahh Loudermilk, a redshirt freshman from Howard, Kan. The 6-7, 280-pound Loudermilk end played 8-man football in high school, leaving him with a somewhat steep learning curve. But last fall it was pretty clear that Breckterfield was excited about his future.

Two other names to consider are redshirt sophomores David Pfaff and Kraig Howe. Victims of the numbers game to this point in their careers, the spring serves as their chance to play within Wisconsin’s defense as opposed to being on the scout team and emulating a particular opponent.

Catching up