The 2016 Wisconsin tournament loss redemption tour continues with a second round game against the Xavier Musketeers, the program that knocked the 2009 Badgers out of the NCAA Tournament. On Friday, the Badgers won by playing slightly less awful basketball than Pittsburgh, the program that eliminated the 2004 Badgers from the tournament. Should Wisconsin survive through to the Elite Eight, they might get a shot at taking down number one seed North Carolina, the program who ended the 2005 Badgers' season in the Elite Eight.
Although the fans in America's Dairyland surely enjoy seeing their team get another shot at these foes, players in their first postseason run as major contributors like Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown are probably more focused on crafting their own tournament legacy.
Happ and Brown saved the day for the Badgers versus the Panthers. Happ finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals, while Brown made two massively important three-pointers in the final six minutes of the game. Junior guard Bronson Koenig's 43-game streak of making at least one three-pointer ended, and junior forward Nigel Hayes's chances of getting a date with Lea Michele plummeted after he finished 3-for-17 from the field. Hayes will need to play more like his title of first-team all-Big Ten performer for the Badgers to feel good about their chances of taking down a Xavier team who is 1-0 versus the Big Ten this year with a 86-70 pasting of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The Big Ten freshman of the year Happ finds himself in one of those arbitrary yet interesting stat categories that may or may not be relevant in a larger context. In the last 15 seasons of college basketball, the only freshmen to compile 400 points, 60 steals, and 30 blocks are Kevin Durant (Texas), DeJuan Blair (Pitt), and Happ. Xavier likes to rotate their players but Happ's toughest matchup might come from senior bench big James Farr. Xavier is a strong offensive rebounding team and Farr has the 11th best offensive-rebounding percentage in the nation. Happ has the 61st best defensive-rebounding percentage in the country, so the Happ-Farr freshman vs. senior battle on the glass could play a big role in determining the outcome of this one.
Farr is on a seven-game streak of scoring at least 10 points, although the senior's 2-for-7 free throw shooting performance proved to be an important factor in Xavier's 87-83 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament. Farr is overall a capable free-throw shooter at 73%, but like Happ he does all of his work inside the three-point line. Although Farr typically maxes out at about 25 minutes of playing time, it will be interesting to see if the senior from Evanston, Ill. gets the best of the freshman from Milan, Ill.
The narrative for this one will be that it's another tough-nosed battle between two blue-collar programs, but I'm not sure that description fits as well for this game as it did for Wisconsin-Pittsburgh. The Badgers are at their best when they outflank their opponents with crisp passing and crafty footwork, not brute strength. Wisconsin grinded and bruised their way to a win over Pitt, but Xavier's far too good for the Badgers to follow that blueprint again tonight.