After five days of rest and a trip eastbound to Philadelphia, the Wisconsin Badgers are primed for their Friday night matchup against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Both teams come off emotional victories, with the Irish slipping past Stephen F. Austin on a last second tip-in and the Badgers finding themselves in the Sweet Sixteen after Bronson Koenig's heroic last second three pointer catapulted the Badgers past Xavier.
As six and seven seeds, both teams find themselves in a great position to make the Elite Eight despite their low seeding. The Irish have had an interesting two tournament games, with two seldom used players stepping up during college basketball's biggest stage.
This starts with Rex Pflueger, a 6'6" freshman whose only basket of the game was the tip-in. The California native was only on the floor for defensive purposes, but found himself in the right place at the right time for the basket. The other one is Matt Farrell, a guy who had a lot of DNPs earlier in the year and now finds himself in the starting lineup. He was effective in 31 minutes against Stephen F. Austin, and provides Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish with another primary ballhandler alongside Demetrius Jackson.
Zach Auguste does the heavy lifting inside for Notre Dame as we profiled earlier this week, and his 6'10" frame and excellent shooting touch both around the rim and from the midrange helps Notre Dame space the floor. Bonzie Colson plays spot minutes off the bench, and V.J. Beachem still had another solid game last time out after shooting perfect from the field against Michigan.
For Wisconsin to win this game, they're going to have to force Notre Dame into foul trouble. The Irish play seven or eight guys off the bench, but forcing Pflueger and Colson into more minutes would be much more beneficial than having to play against Auguste, Beachem and Jackson.
On the perimeter, they're going to have to make tough shots and try to limit the shooting of Steve Vasturia and Jackson. The Irish haven't been particularly good shot makers so far in this tournament, and Wisconsin has the guys who are able to knock a few down and carry momentum.
Perhaps most importantly, will the real Nigel Hayes finally show up? The junior has been horrendous, awful, garbage and any other adjective you could use. His shooting has been off, he continues to force shots to try to get his points, and doesn't seem to have a flow within the offense. If he can get a few easy buckets early, especially if the Badgers can find a way to post him up on the low block, it could do wonders for his confidence.
Overall, this is a game Wisconsin absolutely can win. The Badgers weren't even supposed to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble in December, and climbed their way in the regular season and with clutch shot making in the postseason. Ethan Happ remains my x-factor and needs to have a great game against Auguste, but the Badgers have enough talent and newfound depth to ultimately outlast the Irish.