Wisconsin advanced out of the Round of 64 thanks to seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. However, all that means is a date with the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament — Villanova.
It might be the most difficult test the Badgers have faced since taking on fellow No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving week. That game didn’t end so well for the Badgers, but this is March and not the end of November.
Villanova is also a wholly unfamiliar opponent for the Badgers program, having played just one other time in Dick Bennett’s debut as the head coach at UW.
So, just who are the defending national champions? Can the Badgers stand up against what is arguably the best team in the country? Let’s find out more about the Wildcats.
Overall Record: 32-3
Big East Record: 15-3
RPI: 1 *
SOS: 25 *
RPI Top 25 Record: 3-2
RPI Top 50 Record: 12-2
RPI Top 100 Record: 17-3
KenPom: 2 **
Notable wins: at Purdue, vs. Wake Forest (neutral court), vs. Notre Dame, at Creighton, vs. Virginia
Notable losses: twice to Butler, at Marquette
Last 12: 11-1
Neutral Court Record: 9-0
Villanova knows how to win a championship and the hallmark of the program is its defensive effort. It’s no coincidence that the 2017 Big East champions led the league in scoring defense at 62.6 points per game. The Wildcats also hold opponents to just 41.6 percent from the field, which was also tops in the Big East.
Oh, and Wisconsin’s suddenly hot three-point shooting? Well, Villanova has held opponents to 31.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
This group also has held 22 of its opponents under 65 points this season. There’s little doubt that Villanova’s defensive effort isn’t lacking and it is a major sticking point in this game.
2. Offensive Efficiency
Villanova is a scary offensive team, and much like the Badgers they generate a lot of their offense thanks to the work done at the other end of the court. But, just how dangerous is the Wildcats offense this season? According to KenPom.com, this is the No. 2 ranked team in Adjusted Offense in the country.
They get there by averaging a crazy 77.5 point per game, which also has led to a plus-15.6 scoring margin on the season. Lest you think it is all about volume for the Wildcats to get there, they are one of the most dangerous shooting teams in the country. Villanova is shooting 49.8 percent from the field on the season and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
3. Multiple Scoring Threats
Teams that get to the level Villanova has been at the past three years don’t do it with just one person pulling the string offensively. VU’s production on the offensive end of the court comes in a very efficient manner. It’s no coincidence that having four players scoring in double figures also helps Villanova rank fourth in offensive efficiency this season.
Josh Hart is the leader of the offense, averaging 18.7 points per game, but he isn’t the only dangerous scorer. Jalen Brunson averages 14.8, Kris Jenkins hits at 13.3 and Mikal Bridges rounds out the double-digit scorers at 10.0 points per game.
There’s even a double-double threat off the bench, as Donte DiVincenzo went for 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Round of 64 win on Thursday.
Scoring weapons clearly abound for the Wildcats.
When you are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament there really aren’t a whole lot in the way of weaknesses. Even if you want to nitpick on stats there are plenty of counter arguments.
That is certainly the case when you look at Nova’s rebounding statistics, as they rank middle of the pack in the Big East in offensive rebounds. Perhaps there is an advantage there for the Badgers to expose. However,
We did find one weakness though, and that was Villanova’s second-half offense vs. Wisconsin’s second half offense. The Wildcats are just +5.9 per game on the season in the second half, while the Badgers are +6.8 and are ranked ninth in the country in that category.
If Wisconsin wants to win this game, keeping it close heading in to halftime and playing the spirited ball we usually see out of the intermission will be key. Saying that is easy, doing it has been less so. However, in the three losses, Villanova has been out-scored in the second half by an average of 13.3 points.
That certainly seems like a weakness against a Badgers team that has been very good defensively all season long and even better on the offensive end of the court for most of the year.
Players to Know
Josh Hart: As we mentioned before, Hart is the Wildcats’ leading scorer, averaging 18.7 points per game. However, the 6-5 guard also averages a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game. His size and ability with the ball make him a matchup nightmare compared to what the Badgers have in the backcourt. Just take a look at what he did against Purdue.
Kris Jenkins: One guard that is 6-5 is hard enough to handle, but Villanova also throws a 6-6, 235 pound forward who plays more like a guard in Jenkins. He’s not only second on the team in scoring with 13.3 points, but also adds 4.2 rebounds per game and shoots 36 percent from beyond the arc as well. He stretches defenses, and Wisconsin may not be much different.
Is there a hotter name in college basketball coaching than Jay Wright? He is at the helm of a Villanova program that just one its first national title last year and has dropped just three games all season this year.
He’s compiled a 386-160 record in his 16 seasons at Villanova. Most impressively, his Wildcats haven’t lost more than 5 games in each of the last four seasons.