NCAA Tournament Preview: Wisconsin vs. American - Can The Eagles Score Enough to Keep Pace With The Badgers?

Move it or lose it, Craft. - Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers open up Tournament play Thursday at 11:40 AM CST in Milwaukee against American. Can Wisconsin channel their inner Soviet Union and beat American?

What:

University of Wisconsin Team American University
B1G, ya heard? Conference Patriot League
12-6 Conference Record 13-5
26-7 Overall Record 20-12
2 NCAA Seed 15
6 RPI 122
13 KenPom 95

When: Thursday March 20th at 11:40 AM CST on TruTV

Where: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI

Why: BECAUSE IT'S TOURNAMENT TIME, SON! LET'S DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!

The Skinny: The Wisconsin Badgers have never faced off against the American Eagles in college basketball, or any sport I'd imagine (but there is no time to research that), but they will matchup in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in a #2 vs. #15 matchup. The only American basketball action I'd caught up to this point in the season was when they played Ohio State earlier in the year, and lost 63-52, and I thought it was funny that OSU only beat them by 11. So, I did some research so my #analysis would sound smart and I could present some cogent arguments as to why the Eagles could hang with the Badgers. That quickly turned boring, but I soldiered on for you, fair reader. American enters the Tournament as the Patriot League Tournament champion (besting Boston University in the final) and Patriot League regular season runner-up, behind the same BU team they beat in the championship game. This season has been quite the turnaround for the Eagles, who ended last year with a record of 10-20, fired their coach, and were predicted to finish ninth out of 10 in Patriot League preseason predictions. New coach Mike Brennan installed a Princeton-style offense for the new season replete with back cuts, multiple sets, and losing to Columbia when you shouldn't. It took some time for the Eagles to get used to the new offense (they started off 3-7), but as they settled in with it they rattled off 11 straight wins.

American shoots 49.5% as a team, which ranks seventh in the country and averages 15.1 assists per game, good for 37th in the nation, but only score 63.9 points per game which is 316th overall. How is this possible, you ask. They, uh, turn the ball over a lot. Like Sanchezian levels of turning the ball over. Their turnover percentage is 22.8, which is 342nd best (best, LOL) in the country. The Badgers, on the other hand, have the second best turnover percentage in the country. It doesn't matter how well you shoot if you never have the ball, American. According to KenPom, American's AdjO ranks 199th in the land, but their AdjD is a respectable 47th. In a variation from the norm, Wisconsin is a much better offensive team than they are a defensive one this year, and this will pose a problem for the Eagles.

The Eagles, like the Badgers, don't go very deep on their bench. Four players average over 31 minutes per game, so staying out of foul trouble will also be key for American. Let's take a look at the projected starting lineups:

Wisconsin Position American
Traevon Jackson G Jesse Reed
Ben Brust G Darius Gardner
Josh Gasser G John Schoof
Sam Dekker F Kyle Kager
Frank Kaminsky C Tony Wroblicky

Key Players:

Tony Wroblicky: The Princeton offense needs a center that is a capable passer, or else it will be useless. Wroblicky fits the bill perfectly, averaging 3.7 APG and sporting a 22.0 assist percentage. The 6'10" senior also is second on the team with 12.2 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game. He is also, unfortunately, the leading culprit in American's turnover issues, averaging a team-leading 2.9 per game. If the Badgers can get him in foul trouble, American will also be in trouble.

Jesse Reed: A sophomore combo guard, Reed is American's leading scorer at 13.9 PPG, and he will need to play aggressively in order to keep the Eagles in the game. His eFG% leads the team (of players who contribute regularly) at 61.4% and he's also able to keep the ball (compared to his teammates) with a turnover percentage of 14.3. As the leading scorer, he will probably draw the attention of Wisconsin's top perimeter defender, Josh Gasser. I don't foresee Reed reaching his season average in points.

The key players for Wisconsin are the same as they are every game. Kaminsky needs to stay out of foul trouble and stretch defenses with his three point shooting ability; Dekker needs to be aggressive on offense and assert himself on defense; Jackson needs to play under control and not force his shot; Brust needs to find his range early and chase after rebounds with reckless abandon; Gasser needs to play shutdown defense and shoot like, two or three open three pointers; and Hayes needs to provide a spark off the bench, spell Kaminsky when needed, and get to the foul line.

Prediction: Playing against a Princeton offense can be difficult, especially when you haven't seen one all year, just look at the quotes from Zach Bohannon (who played in one at Air Force before he transferred to UW) in this article. However, the Princeton offense is primarily run by teams who aren't super athletic or as talented as the "big boys" (see: Northwestern, Carmody years). Wisconsin is clearly the better team, and after some early struggles where American gets a couple of layups, the Badgers will prove it. Final: Wisconsin 72 - American 58

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