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3/18 NCAA Tournament Preview: Round 2 Begins

With three Big Ten teams in play, the conference looks to continue its 2017 tournament run.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Wisconsin Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

7 teams enter, 5 teams remain.

Despite the lack of Big Ten love during the 2016-17 season, a 5-2 start to the tournament is nothing to scoff at. As we enter the second round of the tournament, several huge matchups will once again pit the Big Ten against other power conferences.

Let’s look at Saturday’s slate of games.

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-#1 Villanova Wildcats vs. #8 Wisconsin Badgers

  • TV/Time: 2:40 p.m. ET - CBS
  • Spread: Villanova (-6)

Simply put, the Villanova Wildcats have been one of the most consistent top flight teams in the country this season. Their efficient and largely dominate approach has teetered with boredom. In their three losses, the Wildcats have lost by just 19 combined points. Led by senior guard and National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart, Villanova seems to always find ways to win.

The Wildcats are tremendous defensively. Ranked 16th nationally, Villanova’s defense gives up just 62.6 points per game. Their wings have exceptional length, and the experience of the roster contributes to defenders playing intelligently and always being in position.

On top of their defensive prowess, the Wildcats are incredibly balanced. Though they lack a deep bench, they do not have a lot of deviation in their lineup. Villanova has four players that average double figures in scoring, four players averaging over 4 rebounds per game, four players averaging at least 2 assists, and three players averaging over 1 steal per game. From the arc, three different players shoot of 39%.

Though they struggled in round 1 against 16 seed Mount St Mary’s Mountaineers, the team is too talented not to bounce back. The Mounts might have just kicked the hornets’ nest.

For Wisconsin to compete, it’s same game plan different team. If there is an area to attack the Wildcats, it will be in the paint with Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Villanova lacks size inside, and one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths is their interior presence. If the inside duo can recreate the 9 offensive rebounds they pulled against Virginia Tech, they will find success.

In their victory over Virginia Tech, the Badgers hit 13 threes, good for 41.9% from behind the arc. The better the Wisconsin shooters can be from deep against the Wildcats, the more space they will open in the paint for Happ and Hayes.

While Bronson Koenig’s 8 threes were remarkable, it will be his activity on the defensive end that he will absolutely need to bring against the Wildcats. He will most likely matchup with Hart, and limiting his performance will be a huge factor for the game. On the season the Badgers rank 9th in the country defensively, holding opponents to just 61.5 points a game.

Overall this should be a hard fought, grinder of a game. Both teams are ferocious defensively, and both teams possess a boatload of tournament experience. The Badgers will be a tough opponent, but the Wildcats will likely advance due to their top to bottom talent.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Villanova

The Rest:

-#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #8 Northwestern Wildcats

  • TV/Time: 5:15 p.m. ET - CBS
  • Spread: Gonzaga (-11)

After checking off their first NCAA Tournament appearance, as well as their first win, the Northwestern Wildcats have captured the hearts of the country. If it weren’t for all the ESPN alumni love, constant crowd shots of Julia Louis Dreyfus or purple faced Doug Collins, they may be liked even more.

For the Wildcats, though, the magical ride is likely over.

Gonzaga has one loss this season. One single 8-point loss. They have been touted as the worst of the one seeds, and when you factor in the quality of play in the WCC, that sentiment may be accurate. On the season overall, though, the Bulldogs have defeated Arizona, Florida, Iowa State, and Saint Mary’s, all teams that are still alive in the dance.

Offensively, the Bulldogs average a whopping 84 points a game on 51.8% shooting, ranked second nationally. The Zags are led by Nigel Williams-Goss, who averages 16.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Overall the Bulldogs play five players that score in double figures.

Defensively they are just as effective. On the season, Gonzaga is holding opponents to a NCAA fifth best 60.7 points a game. They also hit the glass hard, pulling in 40.6 boards a game.

For Northwestern to complete, they will need all their backcourt has and more. Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law will need to all have otherworldly performances. After scrapping by Vanderbilt, the outcome is ominous. Gonzaga will likely be too tough of an opponent.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Gonzaga

#4 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #5 Iowa State Cyclones

  • TV/Time: 9:40 p.m. ET - TBS
  • Spread: Even

Iowa State features a guard heavy, fast and furious offense led by senior Monte Morris. On the season, the guard is putting up 16.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists. Largely regarded as one of the better point guards in the country, Morris will look to exploit the Boilermakers on the perimeter with his speed and interchangeable ball movement with the other Cyclone guards.

For Purdue, the game plan is flipped. To exploit the perimeter threat Iowa State presents, the Boilermakers will attack the paint. Of course, with Caleb Swanigan on your roster, that would be the plan anyway. By slowing the pace and working the ball inside to Swanigan and fellow big Isaac Haas, Purdue can attempt to dictate flow and neutralize the open court speed of Iowa State.

Purdue has a great advantage in their three-point shooting. If the Cyclones decide to bring extra defensive help inside, they will be susceptible to the lights out three point shooting the Boilermakers bring.

Ultimately, Purdue and the elite post play that Swanigan brings should be too much for the Cyclones to handle. The Boilermakers can hurt defenses in too many ways.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Purdue