Wisconsin and Florida’s Sweet 16 matchup was a thriller to say the least.
The Gators controlled the majority of the second half and it looked as if the Badgers and the Big Ten as a whole were kissing the NCAA Tournament goodbye when Florida’s lead got to as many as 12 with 5:24 remaining. However, the Badgers and their four seniors weren’t quite ready to conclude their collegiate careers.
Wisconsin stormed back late and because of a converted off-balance running three by Zak Showalter with three seconds left, the game went to overtime.
While it was the Badgers that led for the majority of the extra five minutes, Chris Chiozza gave Wisconsin a taste of their own medicine in the closing seconds of OT.
Despite his shaky free throw shooting, Hayes knocked down two clutch free throws to give Wisconsin an 83-81 lead with four ticks left in overtime.
Unfortunately for Badger fans, Chiozza went the length of the floor and threw up a strikingly similar three to Showalter’s at the end of regulation. Just as Showalter did, Chiozza hit nothing but net to give the Gators an 84-83 OT victory.
Let’s see what we learned from the back-and-forth Sweet 16 contest.
1. The Badgers Need to Hit Their Free Throws Next Season.
Though Wisconsin’s free throw shooting has been uncharacteristically poor all season, we haven’t seen it directly translate into that many losses.
However, tonight, it was the Badgers’ achilles heel.
Even though Hayes nailed two enormous free throws before the Chiozza buzzer beater, Hayes and Wisconsin as a team were once again below average from the stripe. The Badgers went 20-30 from the line (66.7 percent) and missed some key free throws in the extra five minutes.
Regardless of the fact that nine of Wisconsin’s 11 points in OT came from the free throw line, the Badgers missed five free throws during those five minutes. If Wisconsin could have stepped up and shot better than 64.2 percent from the stripe in OT, they most likely would be looking forward to an Elite 8 matchup with South Carolina.
As a team, the Badgers shot 64.3 percent from the line this season, their lowest mark since the 2012-’13 season. This season was also only the second time in the last 10 seasons that Wisconsin shot under 70 percent as a team from the line.
The Badgers have become a respectable program because of their ability to lock down the fundamentals. If Wisconsin wants to continue its winning ways in the future, it’s going to need to remember how to take advantage of free throw attempts.
2. If KeVaughn Allen Keeps Doing His Thing, the Gators are a Title Contender.
After two frustrating performances to begin the NCAA Tournament, Allen finally found his stroke against Wisconsin. The Sophomore guard was practically a ghost against East Tennessee State and Virginia, going 3-21 and scoring only 11 points in the two March Madness games combined. Since Allen averaged 13.4 points per game in the regular season, those two games were clearly abnormally poor for Allen.
While Wisconsin definitely wasn’t banking on Allen going ice-cold from the floor again, I doubt they expected Allen to explode like he did against the Badgers. Allen finished with 35 points and converted 11-24 attempts from the floor against Wisconsin.
Without Allen’s monstrous outing, the Badgers probably would have won easily.
However, with that being said, it’s hard to see Florida losing again in March if Allen continues to go off like he did against Wisconsin. Though expecting at least 30 from Allen in the Elite 8 is asking a little much, 20 plus is not.
If the guard can do so with Canyon Barry and Devin Robinson hitting their average of 11 points per game, the Gators are extremely dangerous in the coming rounds of the Tournament.
3. The NCAA Tournament Refs Haven’t Stopped Making Questionable Calls.
Trust me, I’m not one to bag on NCAA officiating. For the most part, I believe the the officials do an outstanding job at managing NCAA basketball games throughout the season. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think the officiating has been noticeably shaky throughout March Madness.
Whether you want to point to Gonzaga’s infamous hand through the hoop non-goaltending call against Northwestern or the unfair amount of ticky-tacky calls, the refs haven’t been that sharp.
The officiating didn’t favor either team in Wisconsin and Florida’s game. This is simply because the questionable calls went both ways. There were 50 total fouls called in the game. The only Sweet 16 game with more fouls was West Virginia vs Gonzaga, in which there were 51 fouls committed.
Granted, Wisconsin and Florida was the only Sweet 16 game that went to overtime. Though that is part of the reason so many fouls were committed, I believe there were a lot of instances where the refs should have let the players play.
The the main occurrence that comes to mind is when Showalter was called for a foul three seconds into overtime for chasing down the tip off with Allen. The whistle was blown, though it appeared the two’s feet just got tangled.
Sometimes, especially at that stature of the game, the refs need to swallow their whistles.
After winning its eighth straight Sweet 16 game, Florida will continue it’s 2017 March Madness run against a red hot Gamecocks team in the Elite 8. South Carolina has had no problem with tough competition thus far, beating Duke 88-81 and most recently demolishing Baylor 70-50 in the Sweet 16.
Both teams have been hot shooting the ball and both teams have a significant amount of momentum heading into Sunday’s game. Expect another thriller.
The Badgers definitely have their work cut out for them next season. Bronson Koenig, Hayes, Showalter, and Vitto Brown are all graduating. All of the four previously mentioned players were starters for Greg Gard’s squad. Earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th consecutive season will be more in Ethan Happ’s hands than any other individual player.
D’Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson, and Brevin Pritzl will most likely become starters for Wisconsin next season. Regardless, they all will need to continue to improve if the Badgers want to put together another winning season. In terms of recruiting, The Badgers are adding a trio of four-star studs that could immediately contribute for Gard.
Forward Nate Reuvers cracked ESPN’s Top 100 incoming recruits at no. 83 overall. Reuvers was recruited out of Lakeville, Minnesota and was rated the third best player in his state. A duo of guards, Kobe King and Brad Davison, round out the Badgers’ incoming recruits. Davison received offers from Michigan, Northwestern and Nebraska.
Gard has done an exceptional job coaching Wisconsin since Bo Ryan retired. Though the Badgers will be somewhat in rebuild mode next season, they should be able to continue their March Madness streak.
An improved Ethan Happ will carry the Badgers the whole season. If Wisconsin’s incoming recruits don’t have any growing pains, the Badgers will also have a decent amount of depth.
Also, breakout seasons from Iverson and Trice would not be surprising.