By the Numbers:
March 27, 2014 - Honda Center, Anaheim, CA
7:47 PM ET - TBS
Wisconsin arrived in the Sweet 16 with two very different wins. They dismantled American 75-35 in arguably the most dominant performance of the tournament thus far. They started out a bit flat in the first half, but outscored American by 30 in the second half. However, it took some late-game heroics by Ben Brust and company to give the Badgers a comeback win over Oregon in the Round of 32. Although Oregon's aggressive defense and hot shooting gave them a 12-point halftime lead, Wisconsin showed poise and maturity in the second half, and demonstrated that this team is built to make a run.
Baylor had a dominating performance of their own against Creighton in the Round of 32. They beat the Jays 85-55, and stifled the usually-potent Creighton offense. Doug McDermott only scored 15 points against Baylor's rejuvenated and flexible zone. On the offensive end, sharpshooters Brady Heslip and Kenny Cherry knocked down 9 total threes. While Wisconsin has struggled in both games slightly, Baylor has looked dominant.
Projected Starting Lineups:
|Traevon Jackson||G||Kenny Cherry|
|Ben Brust||G||Brady Heslip|
|Josh Gasser||G/F||Royce O'Neale|
|Sam Dekker||F||Cord Jefferson|
|Frank Kaminsky||C||Isaiah Austin|
Players to Watch:
Ben Brust: Wisconsin's offense ebbs and flows as Brust's shot falls. In the first half against Oregon, Brust was 1-3 from behind the arc. Because his shot wasn't falling, Oregon was able to stretch their early lead. But once the second half came around, Brust exploded, and knocked down 3 from behind the arc, including a huge one with just over a minute left to give Wisconsin a lead. So if Wisconsin wants a chance to win, Brust will need to make his threes. The problem is that he's had some cold spells throughout the year, and Baylor held Creighton, who led the country in 3P%, to 5-24 shooting from three. That could be an iffy matchup for Brust.
Sam Dekker: Against Oregon, Dekker showed the occasional flash of his athletic dominance, including a thunderous dunk for Wisconsin's first points. However, by the end of the game, he was rarely looked at for his scoring. That's a bit worrisome to me, because they need as much late-game shooting as possible. He was able to make up for his lack of offensive dominance with his rebounding. All game against Oregon, he went after rebounds with reckless abandon for a total of 8 rebounds, with 5 coming on the offensive end. Some of those were clutch too, and helped extend Wisconsin's late possessions. While the Ducks tested his athletic abilities, Cord Jefferson and Baylor present him with an even bigger dilemma. Can he keep Jefferson at bay?
Brady Heslip: Confession: I have been a fan of Brady Heslip for a very long time. This picture had a solid run as my Facebook profile picture for a good long time. Now not only his he absolutely adorable, but he can ball too. And he's not just strictly a three-point shooter; when his shot isn't falling, he adapts his offensive game. Against Creighton, his shot fell. Therefore, he kept taking threes, and went 5-7 for that game. But against Nebraska, he struggled from three. He was 0-6, and only 1-7 from the field as a whole. However, he made up for it with a 10-10 performance from the foul line. The Badgers must not underestimate his offensive versitility. He will hurt them.
Isaiah Austin: Offenses have to game-plan around Austin's presence in the middle. In Baylor's game against Creighton, they let them venture inside, challenging them to score over Austin's 7'1" frame. As you can tell by the final score, that didn't work. How will Wisconsin's guards adapt to such a big presence down low, especially since Oregon played small? In addition, the matchup of Austin and Kaminsky could be incredible TV. Both are awkwardly effective on offense, so seeing them go back and forth late in the game will be tons of fun.
Guhhhhhh. I really don't know. Against Oregon, Wisconsin looked vulnerable. But that win proved that this team can win games that they aren't supposed to - a necessity for teams in March. Baylor has cruised to the Sweet 16, and should be confident in their team defense after shutting down Creighton. But when Wisconsin's offense is on, it's much more multi-faceted than Creighton. If Baylor gives the Badgers the three, they can take it. If they dare them to go inside, Frank Kaminsky is an effective scorer down low. Austin will slow him down, but not to a crippling degree.
Because of all that, this game is Wisconsin's for the taking. I'm terrified to pick them because I don't want to jinx them, but I think they can outpace the athletic Bears. We shall see.
Wisconsin 79, Baylor 76