The Pulse of Wisconsin

The Pulse of Wisconsin

Although he continues to refine and improve his shooting and scoring, the leadership, court vision and confidence junior guard Traevon Jackson brings to the table have pushed second-seed Wisconsin throughout the season.

MILWAUKEE - As he followed the prep career of Traevon Jackson all through suburban Columbus, Ohio, Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard made a lot of notes and observations about the 6-2 guard.

Jackson was a scorer for one, gradating as the school's all-time leading point producer, but Gard knew that his shot needed some refinement. Jackson has good court vision and instincts with his 4.4 assists and 3.3 steals per game his senior year, but it was evident that he sometimes needed to play with a little control.

All those things might normally have made Wisconsin patient with a scholarship offer, but Gard knew that Jackson was Wisconsin material from the start with the way his leadership ability jumped off the page.

"I thought he could be a great leader because of the respect I saw his teammates had for him and how he conducted himself vocally and with his work ethic," said Gard. "Some guys can talk a lot, but don't get it done on the court. Some guys get it done on the court but are people of few words. And that's fine. We've had guys that are very soft spoken but are very good leaders.

"He's able to do both. He has very good communication skills with his teammates and very good relationships with them, and nobody works harder in practice but also on his own than Traevon does."

From a pure numbers standpoint, it's easy to see what Jackson has done to bring a bigger impact to the second-seeded Badgers (27-7), who go for their seventh Sweet 16 appearance since 2000 against seventh-seed Oregon (24-9) at the Bradley Center.

Increasing his field goal percentage by 3.9 percentage points (41.3 percent) and his 3-point accuracy by almost 10 percentage points (39.2 percent) in his junior year, Jackson is averaging a career-best 10.6 points per game. More importantly his assists are up, his turnovers-per-minute are down and his comfort level as the team's starting point guard is noticeable.

"Last year, he was thrown into the fire when I got injured," said junior Josh Gasser, projected to be the starting point guard in 2013. "He had to step into that role, and it's tough to do. You're a young kid, didn't really play much the year before, so he had to learn a lot on the fly. This year, he got a lot more confident in his ability. He learned a lot from last year and just got better. He's shown this year how good of a player he can be. "

And because of that inner confidence, the leadership has started to shine through, and it's changed the identity of the Badgers in the process. Unafraid to push tempo and help them score in transition, Wisconsin is averaging 73.6 points per game, its highest scoring average in 20 years, while ranking fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, with an average of 1.19 points per possession.

He's also the voice in the huddle, giving subtle and not-so-subtle jabs to teammates when he's not seeing players attack and be aggressive.

"To be a point guard for Coach Ryan, you have to be a tough-minded person that's willing to accept responsibility, accountability," said Gard. "Coach puts a lot on our point guards and really expects a lot of them. He's one of those who keeps raising the bar and is never satisfied with where they're at."

Jackson was mentally tested, along with his teammates, during the month of January. Wisconsin lost five of six following its 16-0 start, and Jackson had a lot of outside criticism put on his shoulders because he shot less than 28 percent in four games and had four other occasions where his assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.0 or less.

It was after UW's one-point home loss to Ohio State, a game in which Jackson went 2-for-9 and missed the game-winning shot, that Jackson helped the Badgers find their groove again.

He had a season-high eight assists and hit the game winner against Michigan State, had a perfect 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio at Michigan and had the second best assist-to-turnover ratio of any Big Ten point guard from Feb.15 to the end of the season. Wisconsin went 6-2 on that stretch to earn a two seed in the NCAA tournament for only the second time in program history.

"We've been growing a lot, just learning each other and becoming more consistent with understanding what works and what doesn't," said Jackson. "As a point guard, that's something I try to value a lot (by) watching a lot of film, having more time to practice and playing more games. We've really come to grow in a relationship together."

That was evident in Wisconsin's 75-35 victory over American in the round of 64, the largest margin of victory in UW's 20 appearances in the tournament. The Badgers went on a 69-11 run and shot 50 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from the 3-point line for the game.

Jackson was in the middle of all of it, scoring a game-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting. He also made all four of his free throws, had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and only two turnovers.

"Trae's an important piece to this puzzle," said senior Ben Brust. "When he's playing at a good level for us, it really helps this team. He's the catalyst and he finds guys, and when he's hitting his midrange jump shot and finishing around the rim, he makes this team tough."

The Ducks are seventh in the field in possessions per game averaging 73.2 possessions per game, which has allowed them to score over 90 points nine times. With that kind of offense, Jackson didn't hesitate when asked to list the key to success.

"It's focus on every single possession," said Jackson. "When you start playing in the tournament, possessions start to become more important because the momentum factor is bigger. You play in the regular season and you may get away with one or two possessions because it's not do or die.

"In the tournament if you give up one or two possessions and you get a team going, it can turn into five, six, seven, eight possessions in a row. The momentum shifted, the crowd shifted (and) it's a totally different thing. Those are things you can't get back, so focus is huge."

Jackson has had a bulls-eye on his back and drawn attention from an early age, two things that come with the territory of being the son of All-American Jim Jackson.

But if Traevon Jackson can survive with those expectation, he can handle a fan base and program hungry to break a 13-year Final Four drought.

"He's very strong wiled and strong minded, and that's helped him," said Gard. "To have that kind of bravado and the willingness to take big shots and not afraid of the moment, just a tough-minded, I'm-going-to-find-a-way-to-get-this-done type of person, that fits very well with Coach Ryan because that's how Bo is. We're not where we're at without his leadership and without his toughness."

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