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Can Wisconsin Find Success vs Villanova’s Front Court?

What key matchup could decide the game between the Badgers and Wildcats?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Wisconsin
Ethan Happ and the Wisconsin front court can attack Villanova’s lack of size Saturday afternoon. Will that be enough?
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The under-seeded Wisconsin Badgers face off against the Villanova Wildcats from Buffalo, New York this afternoon. The no. 9 seeded Badgers will be looking for their third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

When the brackets came out, this potential matchup was one of the first ones revealed and it raised eyebrows. The Badgers, who finished second in both the conference regular season and tournament, seemed undervalued by the committee. It seemed odd that Villanova, the number one overall seed, had such an arduous draw in the second round of the tournament.

“Arduous” is a good word to describe this game today. It will be a rock fight. Both teams are very comfortable slowing the pace down, playing defense and limiting possessions.

With that in mind, let’s now take a look at a key match up today that could allow the Badgers to pull off the upset.

- Wisconsin’s Frontcourt vs. Villanova’s Frontcourt

Lack of size and depth in the frontcourt is Villanova’s main weakness.

The Wildcats have excellent guards that cover up their lack of size, but they are matching up against a Wisconsin team that thrives when they involve throwing the ball in the low post. You don’t have to look too far to find Wisconsin effectively doing this.

Wisconsin’s first round victory over Virginia Tech saw the combo of Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ combine for 26 points and 18 rebounds. Combine that with Bronson Koenig throwing bombs from distance, Wisconsin scored 84 points and probably had its best offensive game this season.

This has to be a major concern for Villanova. When you look up and own their roster, you have to wonder where they will effectively match up with Wisconsin’s size.

The case study of Villanova dealing with big teams comes against another Big Ten school. Villanova played Purdue in West Lafayette earlier this season and won 79-76. In that game, it wasn’t that Villanova necessarily limited Purdue’s frontcourt (Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan combined for 42 points and 11 rebounds), they pretty much just outscored them.

A key to that victory was sophomore Eric Paschall. The 6’7” forward put up 11 points off the bench in just nine minutes. He was able to stretch Purdue’s defense with perimeter shooting (2-3 from three) and used up all five of his fouls defending on the defensive end. Putting Wisconsin at the foul line usually won’t hurt you (they shoot 64% as a team), so this could be an effective approach to fending off the Badgers.

On the Wisconsin side of things, they need to pound the ball in the paint. Villanova will try to create turnovers with tight on-ball pressure to limit post entries, or double hard once Happ or Hayes has the ball.

This was effective during the regular season (e.g. Wisconsin’s Ohio State loss) because Happ and Hayes struggled mightily to kick it back out to open shooters and/or the shooters weren’t hitting. The Badgers seem better at this the past couple weeks, but if these turnovers reappear, the Badgers will lose by double digits.

It will take a mighty effort to take down Villanova on Saturday afternoon, but the Badgers have a strength that is a weakness for the Wildcats. The Badgers need to effectively and methodically expose this weakness to move on to the Sweet Sixteen. It will be intriguing to see how it all plays out.