The eight-seeded Wisconsin Badgers are 5.5-point favorites over the nine-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies. It is usually rare for an eight-seed to be that big of a favorite over a nine-seed, but the fact of the matter is Wisconsin is a much better team. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t lose this game. They have lost this season as bigger favorites, and another upset here wouldn’t be shocking at all.
In order to avoid the early upset, Wisconsin is going to have to defend the three-pointer well, take advantage of their massive size disparity, and get more production from their bench.
1. Play good three-point defense
As a team, Virginia Tech has a lot of weaknesses. They are small, don’t rebound well, and struggle on defense. But three-pointers are their big equalizer. They hit 40.3% of their three-point attempts, which makes them 10th in the country and 6th in the NCAA Tournament. When this team gets hot, which isn’t that rare, they can go toe to toe with anyone in the country.
This is especially concerning considering Wisconsin has been very poor at three-point defense. Wisconsin is actually one of the bottom 50 teams in the country in that category. In their recent loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game, they gave up 10 three-pointers on 44% shooting.
Walton is playing as well as anyone in the country. pic.twitter.com/sm25PWauoa
— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) March 12, 2017
Needless to say, if Wisconsin doesn’t tighten that up in this game, they will lose. They cannot afford to let the Hokies get hot.
2. Take advantage of their size
Virginia Tech is one of the smallest power conference teams in the country. Most of the time, they use four guards around one forward, 6 foot 7 senior Zach LeDay. Their only rotation player taller than that is freshman Khadim Sy, and he usually produces very little in 11 minutes per game. Their small ball style will give them the speed advantage over Wisconsin, but the Badgers will be much bigger.
Wisconsin needs to use their size advantage to dominate in the paint. Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes should be able to have a field day on the boards. Both of them will also have constant mismatches. The Badgers need to make a concerted effort to feed them the ball and let them go to work. They shouldn’t settle for quick shots against the much smaller Hokies.
3. Get production from their bench
It is no secret that Wisconsin’s bench has been incredibly inconsistent this season. In their loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game, the Badgers got a staggering zero points from their bench. It is hard to win games when that happens.
Bench play will be especially important in this game. Virginia Tech plays a faster, “small ball” style, and in order to defend it, Wisconsin may need larger doses of Khalil Iverson, Jordan Hill, Brevin Pritzl, and D’Mitrik Trice. Virginia Tech also excels at drawing fouls, so foul trouble may cause Wisconsin to have to resort to the bench.
Wisconsin’s substitutes need to be ready to play hard. They need to play well enough that Wisconsin’s offensive production doesn’t fall off when a few of the starters are out.