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NCAA Tournament Preview: #8 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #4 Florida Gators

Wisconsin will look to reach its third Elite Eight in the last four years.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Wisconsin vs Villanova Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin is creating havoc in the NCAA Tournament yet again and finds themselves in a favorable Sweet 16 matchup against the Florida Gators on Friday night in New York.

The Badgers pulled off one of the tournament’s biggest upsets last Saturday by knocking off the defending champs Villanova. I personally picked the game in my bracket and was not shocked to see Wisconsin move on to the Sweet 16. Wisconsin looks like it’s back to its midseason form and that bodes well for the Badgers.

Opposite of Wisconsin is a Florida Gators team that made easy work of its two opponents last week to reach the Sweet 16. Both of Florida’s wins were by double digits, including a 26-point beatdown of Virginia in the second round. However, neither East Tennessee State or Virginia have the offensive power of Wisconsin so don’t expect another blowout in this matchup.

I like Wisconsin’s odds in this game if they can achieve these three things: create a presence in the post, keep shooting the three-ball well and get another strong performance out of its seniors. The Badgers achieve those three things and they’ll be dancing their way into the Elite Eight. Keep reading to get a more in-depth review for each of those keys.

#8 Wisconsin vs. #4 Florida

  • Time/TV: 9:59 PM ET - TBS
  • Spread: Florida (-2)

1. Will Happ take advantage of a mismatch down low?

This matchup against Florida should be a good one for Wisconsin sophomore forward Ethan Happ. The Badgers’ big man has been great for most of the season, averaging nearly a double-double with 13.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. He’s also hit double figures in six of his last seven games so he’s playing consistent ball right now.

This is a great matchup for Happ because Florida is without junior center John Egbunu, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Gators are 5-3 in the eight games since losing Egbunu and without him they have been going with an extra forward instead of a true center.

While Happ is listed as a forward he plays more like a center. Going up against Egbunu would have made things much tougher for Happ so without him on the floor this should be an area where Wisconsin exploits the Gators. Combine that with senior forward Nigel Hayes’ presence in the post and we have an advantage for the Badgers. However, it’ll be key that Happ stays out of foul trouble. That has been an issue for him this season.

2. Will Wisconsin continue its hot streak from deep?

When the Badgers are hitting their shots from outside they are a very dangerous team. That’s why Wisconsin has gotten its season back on track over the last few weeks.

In the last six games Wisconsin is shooting an incredible 42.9% from the three point line and hitting an average of 9.5 threes out of 22.2 attempts per game. So they are nearly hitting half of the shots they throw up from behind the arc. That’s hard to beat and that’s why they are 5-1 in those six games.

However, the Gators have been great at defending the three all season long. Florida defends the three point shot very well surrendering only a 30.4% mark from behind the arc. That ranks 10th nationally. So we are looking at a true strength vs. strength matchup here.

If Wisconsin continues at the rate they are going then it’ll be tough for the Gators to knock them off and really it would be tough for anyone to knock them off.

3. Can the Wisconsin seniors keep it going?

When we hit the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament having players who’ve been here before can make a big difference. Wisconsin has that in its four senior leaders — Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown.

As you probably already know this Badgers’ senior class has reached the Sweet 16 each year and made it to the Final Four twice. They have the tournament experience necessary to win a game like this and they’ve a ton of key plays so far this tournament.

The four seniors combine for an average of 52.5 points per game in the first two games of this year’s NCAA Tournament. That’s pretty darn impressive. Koenig has led the way with 28 points against Virginia Tech and 17 points against Villanova. Hayes has been equally impressive with a double-double against Virginia Tech and another 19 points, including the game-winning shot, to lift the Badgers over Villanova.

These four guys will need to keep it going for Wisconsin to continue its tournament run and I personally don’t see why they won’t. Expect this group to have another good showing against Florida on Friday.

Overall

The Gators are favored by two in this game and after breaking it down I don’t see how that’s so. Maybe I’m wearing my Badgers goggles or something, but this matchup appears to favor Wisconsin greatly. The Badgers look like the team that got off to a hot start earlier in the season and have some key advantages in this game. If Wisconsin is able to achieve these three keys I laid out then they’ll cruise their way into the Elite Eight. Florida has some playmakers themselves and I believe they’ll make things tough from outside for Wisconsin. But the Badgers will exploit Florida in the post and get some timely shots from its senior class.

  • Pick against the spread: Wisconsin (+2)