Heading into a home game against Northwestern the Wisconsin Badgers were ranked seventh in the nation and sitting on a 21-3 record. The first place team in the Big Ten would then go on a dreadful 1-5 skid that included losses against three NCAA Tournament teams (as well as Ohio State and Iowa) and resulted in the Badgers missing out on a potential Big Ten title.
The Badgers did save face somewhat, though, beating Minnesota in the regular season finale by 17, demolishing Northwestern in the conference tournament and ultimately making it to the title game before falling to Michigan.
Now the question is will we get the Badgers team that started 21-3 and finished the last week of the season on a relatively high note, or will we get that team that faltered throughout February.
It should probably be mentioned that Wisconsin was competitive in that 1-5 stretch, losing by an average of seven points and knocking off Maryland by double figures. The problem is Wisconsin has also won a laundry list of close games, including narrow wins against Rutgers and Nebraska. So was that February run an anomaly or was it the Badgers good luck suddenly regressing at the worst time imaginable?
They should face a stern test tonight against a battle tested Virginia Tech program. The Hokies, who have wins against Duke, Virginia and Michigan, have played nine games against RPI top 25 programs (3-6) and should be up for the challenge.
#8 Wisconsin vs. #9 Virginia Tech
- Time/TV: 9:40 pm E.T. CBS
- Spread: Wisconsin (-5.5)
Buzz Williams’ Hokies squad will bring plenty of firepower to the table, with the offensive unit being one of the most efficient Wisconsin has seen this year. Virginia Tech is one of the top shooting teams in the country, hitting 49% of their field goals (12th) and 40.3% of their three point attempts (12th). Per KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, Virginia Tech ranks as the 21st best offense in the country.
The Badgers will have to defend the perimeter against Virginia Tech, especially since the Hokies have three players shooting at least 41.9% from three. Highlighting that bunch is Seth Allen (45.5%), who is second in scoring on the team with 13.1 points per game. In a backup role, Ty Outlaw is hitting at an even more proficient rate, making 48.2% of his 3.4 three point attempts per game.
Outlaw can help take over a game for the Hokies, highlighted by an astonishing performance in a win against Miami at the end of last month. In the teams six point victory, Outlaw nailed 8 of his 10 three pointers. That performance wasn’t an anomaly either. Outside of a 1 of 4 performance against Florida State, Outlaw is averaging better than 69% from three over the last month (dating back to the team’s four point loss at Louisville).
If Outlaw runs wild against the Badgers, it could be a long day for this Wisconsin team. Luckily the Badgers field a top ten defense and if they play to their strengths, should be capable of guarding the perimeter. It’s definitely a potential sore spot, though, especially with the Wolverines carving up Wisconsin from beyond the perimeter in their most recent outing.
The Badgers will hope that their stars can return to form and help carry them over the Hokies. The reality is there was a reason Wisconsin was the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten heading into the season, and with a frontcourt pairing of Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ, the Badgers should be capable to take control inside. The duo is more than capable of carrying Wisconsin to a win, but will likely need guard Bronson Koening to also play up to his potential.
A lot of the time the 8/9 games tend to be toss-ups and hard to predict. That certainly holds true here, even though that statement would be a surprise if it was made about a month ago.
This Wisconsin team has several of the nation’s most talented players and at one point looked like a potential Final Four program. While things have fallen off since then, a recent surge to close the season shows what this Wisconsin team is capable of. The problem is their lull in February also shows how easily Wisconsin could play their way out of the NCAA Tournament, especially against a Hokies team that can score with ease.
Tonight’s outing should be a battle of strength-vs-strength, with Virginia Tech hoping their offensive firepower can overcome Wisconsin’s lockdown defense. You can make the case for either team here, but one area that needs to be considered is experience in the NCAA Tournament. This Badgers program hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and is coming off of a Sweet 16 outing last year. Also, several guys (Hayes, Koening) were also a part of the teams that made the Final Four in back to back seasons. As for Tech? Well, this is the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007 and only the third appearance over the last 30+ years.
While there’s a lot of potential back and forth here, Wisconsin’s experience and star power should help them find a way to survive and move on to an outing with defending champs Villanova this weekend.
Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin