Wisconsin has gotten off to a molten hot start, crushing both South Carolina State and Yale. However, South Carolina State is one of the worst teams in college basketball and Yale was missing two of its best players. So while the early returns are good, we don’t really know how good this team is. But we’re about to find out.
Xavier is ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll and like Wisconsin, has dominated their first two games against lesser opponents. They visit the Kohl Center Thursday night at 5:30 PM as part of the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games between the Big East and Big Ten. Here are five things you need to know for this game.
1. Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett is a scoring machine
51 points in 50 minutes this season for @TrevonBluiett. ????????????
— Xavier Basketball (@XavierMBB) November 14, 2017
Bluiett has always been a scorer. Last season, he averaged 18.5 points per game, and completely dominated in the NCAA Tournament. But what he is doing so far this season is on a completely different level. Through the first two games of his senior season, Bluiett is averaging 25.5 points per game on 65% shooting from the field and 56% from three-point range. Even though those numbers can’t possibly hold up, he is clearly one of the best scorers in the country. Khalil Iverson will likely get the unenviable assignment of guarding him. Hopefully he can slow him down and force him to take tough shots, because if Bluiett gets going, Xavier is really tough to beat.
2. Wisconsin is favored to win this game
Despite the fact that Wisconsin is unranked and Xavier in No. 15, the Badgers are the favorite to win this game. The current line is Badgers -1. ESPN’s FPI gives the Badgers a 57.2% chance to win the game. So Wisconsin has nothing to be afraid of. This isn’t some long-shot upset game. The Badgers are expected to win this game, or at least keep it close.
3. Expect a lot of zone from Xavier
Like in years past, Xavier will mostly play various zone defenses, particularly a 1-3-1. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin attacks it. They certainly have the shooters to pick apart a zone, but they will have to play inside-out to get open looks. Khalil Iverson will likely play in the high-post, with Ethan Happ on the baseline. The Badgers are going to have to keep moving the ball as quickly and crisply as they did in the first two games.
4. Will Wisconsin keep playing fast?
The Badgers aren’t exactly a run-and-gun team, but they are certainly playing a faster tempo than in years past. According to T-Rank, the Badgers first two games had 70 and 72 possessions. In all of last season, the Badgers only played in two games that eclipsed 70 possessions. That can be attributed to Wisconsin’s willingness to attack in transition, something we haven’t even seen in the Bo Ryan era. It remains to be seen whether that uptick in pace is going to be the new normal, or if it was just a fluke that came from playing inferior foes.
5. Last time Wisconsin played Xavier, magic happened.
I know you already know. But I couldn’t write an entire article about Xavier without mentioning it. It may have been the greatest non-Final Four run NCAA Tournament game in Badgers history. First the comeback. Then the deep, ballsy Bronson Koenig three-pointer to tie the game with 15 seconds left. The charge taken by Zak Showalter (of course). The Koenig buzzer beater that will live on in March Madness more. Sad Bill Murray. That was a truly special game that like most Badger fans, I will never forget.
Prediction: Wisconsin 79, Xavier 77
I think this Wisconsin team is for real. They may even be better than last season. They have more shooters and move the ball much better on offense. Defense is still a work-in-progress, but I think the Badger’s home court advantage will be the extra element that gives Wisconsin the edge in a close, evenly matched game.