The Wisconsin Badgers advanced to its sixth Sweet Sixteen in seven years after two impressive wins in the East Region.
Wisconsin ran with Buzz Williams’ uptempo Virginia Hokies and won 84-74. Bronson Koenig was impressive with 28 points - 24 of that coming from beyond the arc. The Badgers next opponent was no small task. The defending national champion, Villanova Wildcats, rolled in looking to continue its quest to repeat as national champions. Wisconsin had other ideas.
Wisconsin battled through tough defense from Villanova and foul trouble and won the game on a reverse layup from Nigel Hayes with under 15 seconds left. Hayes was huge with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Next up are the Florida Gators. Let’s take a look at what to expect from Mike White’s team.
The Florida Gators can get after it on defense
There are not many teams better than Florida on the defensive end.
The Gators pass the analytics test, with the third best defense according to KenPom, as well as the ‘eye test’. Their defensive demolition of Virginia on Saturday night was something to behold. Florida only gave up 39 points to the Cavaliers. Virginia shot 29.6% from the field and made one three-pointer. It also should be mentioned that Florida is doing this without the services of talented rim protector John Egbunu, who was lost for the season in mid-February.
There should be some concern on the Wisconsin side because the style of play for the Badgers is similar to Virginia. Both teams are slower paced and methodical on offense and this could play into the hands of a long, athletic defensive team. Two things could be different for the Badgers.
The first is Wisconsin’s frontcourt. The Badgers possess better bigs than Virginia that will battle and provide Wisconsin with a better rebounding and offensive punch. Florida does have some trouble rebounding, so extra possessions and opportunities could be big in disrupting Florida’s defense.
The other is three-point shooting. Vanderbilt, who beat Florida three times, showed that you can stretch this Florida defense by making three-point shots. Koenig has been on fire all tournament and will be a factor from three-point range. Another person to watch is Vitto Brown. The senior forward is just a 31% shooter from distance, but knocked down three key triples in Wisconsin’s upset victory over Villanova. He can be an effective piece that stretches Florida’s defense beyond its limits.
Guards can be a strength offensively, but have struggled in the tournament
The top two players for Florida reside in its backcourt. Talented sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen averages over 13 a game and shoots nearly 38% from distance. He is not the most efficient player sometimes and should get to the line more (shoots 87%), but this guard can absolutely take over and win games for the Gators.
Canyon Barry, son of Rick Barry, is Florida’s second leading scorer. The graduate transfer from College of Charleston has averaged nearly 12 points a game and even brings his dad’s underhand free throw approach.
In the NCAA Tournament, these two have not been at their best.
Allen is a combined 3-21 in the NCAA Tournament so far and has only scored 11 points in two games. Barry has not been much better. He’s a combined 2-8 in the two NCAA Tournament games and only tallied 14 total points. In fact, he has more turnovers (3) at this point than made field goals.
It is somewhat surprising that Florida has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen given the struggles of their top two scorers, but this underscores the collective play of Florida’s defense and a player in the Gators’ frontcourt. Let’s take a look at who the X-factor for Florida might be in this game.
Devin Robinson is an x-factor for Florida
The third leading scorer for the Gators is Devin Robinson. The 6’8” junior put up 14 and 11 in Saturday’s win over Virginia in 31 minutes of action. That performance came after a round one game in which Robinson dropped 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a win over East Tennessee State.
Robinson abounds with athleticism and skill. The versatile forward can drive, dunk and shoot from three (39%). This stretch of play is some of the best play from Robinson all season.
He can be a bit of a wild card though. For Friday’s game he will be going for his fourth game in a row in double figures. He’s done that three other times this season, but three of those other times occurred in the non-conference portion of the season. He’s had some great games this season against quality opponents (16 points and nine rebounds in an 88-66 win against Kentucky), and then followed it up with games where he’s disappeared (6 points on 2-6 shooting against Georgia in the next game).
His play might be the reason Florida is in the Sweet Sixteen, but his inconsistency could be the reason they lose to Wisconsin. It will be interesting which way he swings on Friday night.
This is a very winnable game for Wisconsin. The Badgers are a seasoned group of veterans just coming off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament. The East Region is wide open with possibilities and the opportunity is there for the Badgers to return to the Final Four.
However, Florida will not be an easy opponent. The Gators have great coaching from Mike White, one of the best defense’s in the country, talented guards and an athletic forward in Devin Robinson that is capable of going off and advancing the Gators.
The Gators do have some weaknesses. They struggle with rebounding, shooting and inconsistent play at times. They also can be susceptible to three-point shooting. If Wisconsin is able to shoot well and play solid defense, there is a good chance they could be moving on to the Elite Eight.