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2017 NCAA Tournament Preview: #1 Villanova vs. #8 Wisconsin

The Badgers held on against the Hokies, but now face the defending champs in the second round.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Wisconsin Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin has had an up and down season of sorts, but at the end of the day they’re still playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers, who at one point where ranked seventh in the nation and the favorite to win the Big Ten, struggled down the stretch and that resulted in a lower than expected 8 seed. That proves problematic as now the Badgers are set to face the defending champs in Villanova.

Villanova wasn’t exactly impressive early against Mount St. Mary’s, entering the break with a one point lead against the 16 seed, but they took care of business down the stretch to win by 20 points. The Wildcats saw a dreadful performance from Kris Jenkins, who went 2 of 13 from the field and had 7 points in 33 minutes, but still avoided the unlikely upset and soldiered on.

The Badgers had a bit more challenging of a night, going toe to toe with a solid Virginia Tech team. While the Badgers didn’t get the performance they likely wanted from Ethan Happ, fellow forward Nigel Hayes held his own (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Bronson Koening carried the team to victory with 28 points.

#1 Villanova vs. #8 Wisconsin

  • Time/TV: 02:40 pm E.T. CBS
  • Spread: Villanova (-5.5)

When looking at this matchup, Wisconsin is definitely going to hope that guard Bronson Koening can replicate the night he had on Thursday. The senior lit it up from deep, hitting 8 of 17 threes on his way to 28 points. That offensive outburst was a key reason the Badgers advanced and Wisconsin could use another strong outing from their senior leader.

Wisconsin also relies heavily on two other players, forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. Hayes had a solid night on Thursday and will need to perform even better if they want to knock off Villanova. While Hayes had 16 points, half of his scoring came from the free throw line. The Badgers would benefit to get him more involved and a bigger threat on the offensive side of things, especially if Happ has another off night. Speaking of Happ, his 10 points and 8 rebounds was a relatively mediocre night for one of the conference’s top players. Against the Hokies it wasn’t the end of the world, but they’ll need more from him to beat the Wildcats.

Villanova won the title last year in a thriller and have continued their success once again in 2016-17, going 32-3 this season. So far this year Nova has only lost to Butler twice, as well as a two point road loss to Marquette. One of the trends in those losses was a struggling Kris Jenkins, who went 5 of 26 from the field in those three games. If Wisconsin’s strong defense can create problems for Jenkins, they could definitely put themselves into position for the massive upset.

Wisconsin already faced a strong offense in Virginia Tech, but will once again see another impressive unit tonight. Throughout the season the Wildcats are averaging just under 78 points per game while shooting 49.8% from the field (7th in the nation) and 37% from beyond the arc. The Wildcats also have the nation’s second best free throw shooting percentage (79.2%), which could be huge if the game is close down the stretch.

While Kris Jenkins is a key player when it comes to their success, Villanova also relies heavily on their guards Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson. The duo leads the team in scoring, averaging a combined 33.5 points per game, and both shoot around 40% from deep. Wisconsin will need to find a way to slow the pair down to keep Villanova from rolling on the offensive side of the ball. The Badgers do have some offensive weapons, but their strength is their defense and if they get into a shoot out against the Wildcats they’re likely going to be in trouble unless Koening goes absolutely off once again.

Overall

Once again it’s a battle between a dominating defense (Wisconsin) and a loaded offense (Villanova). The wildcard here is that the Badgers have three extremely talented stars and at times have looked like one of the nation’s top teams, showing they have the potential for a massive upset. The Badgers may be an eight seed, but if things played out just a bit differently, could have easily been seeded considerably higher.

The thing is Wisconsin struggled heavily down the stretch and their offense was at fault on a number of those nights. With Villanova likely set to score plenty of points, the Badgers need to keep pace and that will require their trio of Hayes, Happ and Koening to all have impressive performances.

The Badgers are fully capable of the upset, but they don’t have the depth behind their three best players and predicting them to keep pace with Villanova seems unlikely. They’re fully capable of keeping this game interesting, and Villanova probably isn’t pleased they have to face this team in the second round, but Jay Wright’s Wildcats should manage to survive and advance to the Sweet 16.

Pick Against the Spread: Villanova