This roller coaster of a basketball season Florida is putting its fans through has featured more- and higher- ups and downs than any in recent memory. But suddenly, they’re just two wins away from the Final Four and four from a national championship, and thus, they’re on the verge of etching their names in history. The next step? Wisconsin.
|WISCONSIN BADGERS (27-9)|
|Greg Gard||KenPom: 21st||201st||36th|
|Record: 42-17||RPI: 26th||72.1 PPG||61.8|
Breakdown: Get ready for another ugly one. If haven’t seen Wisconsin play this year, just imagine Virginia, but… you know, better. Better point guard play, better size, better speed, better bench, and better disciplined. The Badgers’ defense isn’t quite what Virginia’s is in terms of numbers, but it’s still a top 50 defense in just about every statistical category and therefore a serious threat to the Gators’ road to Phoenix. Making matters worse, the Badgers’ defense comes equipped with shot blockers (four per game), a danger that Virginia didn’t present.
Like Florida, Wisconsin is a team that’s mostly devoid of stars and instead relies on a six or seven man core of players to rotate taking control of different games. Oftentimes, guards Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter will take that role. Other times, it’s forward Nigel Hayes, who scored 19 in the Badgers’ upset of top seeded Villanova in the round of 32. All three of those guys are seniors now, and were around when Wisconsin (and, yes, Florida too) made their run to the Final Four in 2014.
Unlike Florida, however, Wisconsin has been able to consistently produce points in the paint, as they have a noticeable size advantage over most other teams. That’s bad news for Florida. Between Hayes (6’8), Ethan Happ (6’10) and Vitto Brown (6’8), the Badgers have a plethora of scoring options inside (34.4 points per game between them) as well as dependable rebounders (20 rebounds per game between them). So Wisconsin can afford to muddy up the game and turn it into a defensive slug fest, because if all else fails, they’ll bank on their big guys collecting the misfires.
Wisconsin wins if… the Badgers’ size advantage becomes the differentiating factor. It’s no secret Wisconsin’s the bigger team; let’s see them use it. Can they score on Kevarrius Hayes and Gorjok Gak down low? Can they harass them and stop them from scoring at the other end? Can they out rebound the Gators? Affirmative answers to all of the above don’t bode well for Florida.
Florida wins if: they can force turnovers and score in transition. An excellent way to neutralize an opponent’s height advantage is to score while they’re backpedaling and out of sorts. The Gators certainly have the capability to score 20+ points in transition, even in the slowed down type of game Wisconsin figures to play. And of course, if Florida can hit outside shots, their path to victory becomes much less treacherous.
Key stat: Wisconsin averages +6.4 rebounds per game. I mentioned in my ETSU preview that there would come a time where the loss of John Egbunu would hurt, but it wouldn’t be in that game? Yeah, well, here’s that time. Can Hayes and Gak hold their own on the boards?
Verdict: Wisconsin was ranked #7 in the nation before a late season swoon dropped them out of the rankings and out of the spotlight. This is a embarrassingly under seeded team that will no longer be taken for granted after they killed Villanova’s dreams of repeating. But Florida has been under appreciated too, as they also carry the potential to explode for an ungodly amount of points- a potential that they haven’t shown in awhile. The Gators are due to finally get a strong performance from both KeVaughn Allen and Canyon Barry, and that will make the difference as Florida blows open a close game late.
Prediction: Florida 78, Wisconsin 64