The Wisconsin Badgers basketball program has made itself at home in the Sweet Sixteen lately. The 2017 tournament marks the fourth-straight season that UW will be a part of the second weekend of the tournament.
However, this weekend is unlike those past ones, with the Badgers a seeding underdog. Up next for the Badgers will be the No. 4 seed Florida Gators, which come in to this matchup with a 26-8 overall record.
The Gators also come in to the matchup having made two big statements of its own last weekend. UF dumped East Tennessee State 80-65 in the Round of 64 before crushing Virginia 65-39 to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Florida also finished with an RPI rank of eighth and just four losses in SEC regular season play.
Two of those regular season losses happen to come from fellow NCAA tournament team, Vanderbilt. The Commodores also took down Florida in the SEC tournament for three wins in three tries against the Gators.
Given that, perhaps there is a blueprint that UW can learn from and implement? Let’s take a look at some things that Vandy did in getting those wins, things Wisconsin may be capable of doing as well.
Hold Florida Under 70 Points
Vanderbilt held the Gators to under 70 points in two of the three matchups they had this season. Florida managed to average just 66.3 points per game through those three matchups in total and only topped the 70-point mark once (a 73-71 result).
It’s also vital as Florida comes in to this game averaging 77.9 points per game this season.
Clearly the goal has to be avoiding a potent Gators offense.
Vanderbilt’s defensive performance in those three games is also good news for the Badgers defense, who are used to holding opponents to low-scoring outputs this season. The good news is that Wisconsin’s defense has been pretty adept at holding opponent to under 70 points this year. UW is allowing opponents just 61.8 points per game on the year.
Wisconsin’s defense has even come up big in the losses, with UW allowing 70-plus points in just five of the nine losses it has suffered so far this season.
Just how rare was Vanderbilt’s defensive prowess against the Gators? Florida scored fewer than 70 points on just six occasions this season, going 2-4 in those six games.
Seeing a pattern?
Put Pressure On Scoreboard Late
Along with averaging a really high 77.9 points per game on the season, Florida has an average scoring margin of +12.2 per game. However, close contests apparently aren’t the Gators’ thing this season.
Not only did Vanderbilt win all three games, all of them were really close. Two were two-point victories and the last was the 10-point overtime victory in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.
Vanderbilt isn’t the only one to tell us that playing close games aren’t good news for the Gators. In the eight losses on the season, Florida has lost by an average of six points and just 48 points in total.
That’s a measure of a team that has trouble finding the magic when it needs to happen.
Of course, winning comfortably would be nice, but history suggests Florida has some problems figuring out how to win a close game. Which brings us to the final takeaway from Vandy’s three wins (and the rest of Florida’s season)…
Hot Second Half
Perhaps no stat in the three Vanderbilt wins should give Badgers fans more comfort than the news that Florida absolutely stunk things up in the second half in all three games. After all, few teams are as good in the second half as the Badgers have been this season.
Vanderbilt went in to the half shooting an average of 39.2 percent and came out shooting 46.4 percent in the second half. The ‘Dores also averaged 30.3 points in the first half and went off for an average of 36 points in the second half of the three contests.
It also was a pattern for most of the eight losses the Gators have suffered on the season. Gonzaga was the first to drop Florida, and did it by shooting 60.7 percent from the field. Overall, opponents who beat Florida did so by shooting an average of 52.9 percent from the field in the second half.
Wisconsin goes in to this game with an average second half scoring margin of +6.6, which is sixth in the nation according to teamrankings.com.
If the Badgers want to win, they can certainly learn a lot from the formula that Vanderbilt (and others) have used all season long. While the Gators are a good team, there are clearly holes in their game that UW can exploit.