In March, the only thing that matters is winning. It doesn't have to be the prettiest result, as Wisconsin proved Friday night, but it just has to be effective. The Badgers were able to outlast Pittsburgh 47-43, but not before horrific offensive performances nearly let the game slip away.
Let's be blunt: The Badgers first half offensive performance was a trainwreck. Wisconsin was only able to muster up 16 points, including six made field goals and an Ethan Happ free throw. That was it. In the second half, however, the Badgers of recent came back and played a solid half of basketball. The 31 points was encouraging, but they were able to hold Pittsburgh to another subpar half of basketball.
Looking deeper at the box score, there are some glaring issues that need to be fixed before Sunday's tilt against Xavier. First, the volume shooting needs to be rectified. Nigel Hayes shot 3-17 including 0-6 from 3, Bronson Koenig was 1-8 and Zak Showalter was 2-8. For those counting at home, that's 6-35 from three starters that each played more than 30 minutes, which simply cannot happen again.
Second, Wisconsin needs to find some more production from its bench. Besides for Charlie Thomas' first half field goal, the bench was essentially useless. If the starters are struggling as much as they did against Pittsburgh, stealing minutes from Thomas, Khalil Iverson or Jordan Hill will be crucial to finding some offensive rhythm.
As for Xavier, they're an extremely difficult team to game plan for as they can attack you with weapons from all over the floor. The Musketeers are 18th in the country with 81.3 points per game and average 41 rebounds per game, good for 13th nationally. As good as they are as a team, individual matchups for the Badgers could be extremely problematic.
Trevon Blueitt, a 6'6" shooting guard, leads the Musketeers in scoring with just over 15 points per game to go along with 6 rebounds. He only had 10 against Weber State, but his size and versatility as well as his ability to extend the defense could be tough for some of the smaller Wisconsin guards.
He's got a few running mates in the backcourt, including 6'2" junior Myles Davis, 6'4" Indiana transfer Remy Abell and 6'5" freshman Edmond Sumner. All three can shoot from the outside, play tenacious defense and allow the Musketeers to spread the floor. Sumner had 21 against Seton Hall while Davis had 24 and Abell had 15 against Creighton. J.P. Macura is the gunner off the bench, and his shooting provides a luxury to spell any of the four guards. Any of these guys can have a big game, and Wisconsin will try to keep as many of them in check as possible.
Inside, Xavier's heart and soul is Jalen Reynolds. The 6'10" junior is an absolute beast down low, averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds. He's effective around the basket at 51%, and his size and presence alters shots. James Farr came off the bench against Weber State but his size will be a welcome change against Wisconsin, presumably in the starting lineup. Farr has been playing his basketball of the season late, going for double figures in his last seven games to go along with seven rebounds per game in that stretch.
For Wisconsin to win this game, first and foremost they're going to have to make shots. They won't be able to get away with playing another game in which first to 50 wins, especially against an offensive juggernaut like Xavier. Hayes and Koenig will need to establish themselves, but I'm also curious to see how Ethan Happ plays offensively against a monster frontline of Reynolds and Farr.
Second, the Badgers need to keep Xavier off the glass. They do a ton of work on the offensive glass, and even if the Musketeers shots aren't falling, these offensive rebounds will help propel their offense. If the Badgers can click on offensive like they had so many games before and find a way to limit Xavier's big runs, they absolutely have a shot to pull out the victory.