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3/24 Preview: Wisconsin Badgers Take On the Surging Florida Gators

Wisconsin represents the Big Ten’s last chance to reach the Elite Eight.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional Practice Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten had a rather tough night on Thursday. Not because Michigan and Purdue didn’t play well. Both programs had chances to win. But because both went down, leaving all of the league’s hopes to Wisconsin.

Michigan fell to Oregon 69-68. The game see-sawed throughout and the clock just happened to strike zero with the Ducks ahead. Later the same night, Purdue hung around, but Kansas blew the Boilermakers out in the second half.

At this point, the differences between teams are small, and, ultimately, the margin between winning and losing is razor thin. No matter the seed, everyone’s playing well. Teams usually don’t advance this far if they’re not.

Florida and Wisconsin fit the mold, and it should be an interesting style mix. Let’s take a closer look.

Game of the Night:

-Wisconsin Badgers vs. Florida Gators

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

First, we ought to start with how each team got here. Wisconsin beat Virginia Tech, 84-74, and Villanova, 65-62. Over the last two games, the Badgers avoided long stretches of poor offensive basketball, which had plagued them in bad losses.

Meanwhile, Florida defeated East Tennessee State by a score of 80-65 and Virginia, 65-39. Interestingly, Virginia plays much like Wisconsin does. Both teams control tempo, play efficient offense and lock down on defense. Wisconsin’s a little better on offense and a little worse on defense than Virginia, but the styles are incredibly similar.

Against Florida, Virginia shot under 30 percent from the floor, and just six percent from three. This goes without saying, but Wisconsin won’t be able to beat Florida if the offense stagnates for long stretches. Even more than stagnant offense, the Badgers, to win, will have to shoot efficiently from three.

Florida’s ranked third overall, according to KenPom. They have the third most efficient defense, and they average 116.6 points per 100 possessions, which is sixteenth in the nation. Florida defends the three point line extremely well too, which has been an area of struggle for the Badgers.

Pace is also going to be an important factor in the game. Florida will play relatively fast, and Wisconsin’s basically the opposite. So far in the tournament, the Badgers have largely been able to control tempo; it’ll be even more critical to do so against the Gators. However, Florida can defend for long stretches, so even if the Badgers work for a good shot, they may not find one.

Wisconsin has an advantage on the boards. An injury to John Egbunu earlier in the year has left Florida thin on the front line; although Devin Robinson has been more assertive.

Even with the advantage, Wisconsin will have to balance attacking the glass and retreating on defense. The Badgers can get offensive rebounds with just Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, while guards and wings retreat to prevent transition buckets.

Hayes, Happ and Bronson Koenig absolutely need to play well for Wisconsin to win. That’ll be the case from here on out. In particular, Koenig has averaged 22.5 points per game in the tournament so far, and more importantly, he’s hitting threes. In the tournament, Koenig’s shooting 11-for-23 from beyond the arc.

Florida so thoroughly beat Virginia, it’s hard to take a ton away from it. The Gators haven’t been tested much in the tournament. Even still, Florida has been playing well, and present tough issues for Wisconsin, particularly their combination of stingy defense and efficient offense.

I’d go with the Gators to barely cover in a close game.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Florida (-2)