We’ve finally arrived at what is easily the best time of the college sports year — NCAA tournament time. For the Wisconsin Badgers this has become an annual tradition as well.
In fact, it has become an incredible run on a national scale. As in 15 straight years of NCAA tournament and bowl game appearances together, which is the longest streak in NCAA tournament history. UW will also be making its 19th straight NCAA tournament appearance, which is tied for the fifth-longest in history as well.
History aside, can the Badgers live up to the potential we all thought was there to start the season? That question begins to get answered on Thursday.
Let’s get to our staff picks!
Score: Wisconsin 68 Virginia Tech 63
Why: Virginia Tech has shown this season that they can get hot from three. In fact, they are a top ten 3-point shooting team in the country. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is one of the worst teams at defending the three-point line.
But despite that obvious cause for concern, Wisconsin has the edge at every position and category. They are much bigger, and will use that to gain a huge advantage on the glass. They have plenty of experience, and play much better defense.
The Hokies long balls will keep it close, but I’ll take the rebounding, experience, and defense of the Badgers any day in a one and done situation.
Score: Wisconsin 73, Virginia Tech 58
Why: Virginia Tech is a high scoring team that is dependent on their long-range shooting — Wisconsin has been unlucky as a three point defense this season — which is mostly a luck-based statistic. Virginia Tech has a huge disadvantage down low and will need Zach Leday, a 6-7 233 pound forward to contain Ethan Happ and stay out of foul trouble.
Va Tech has little depth behind LeDay, if Happ/Hayes can get him into foul trouble, which I suspect they will, this game will get out of hand in a hurry. I Expect Buzz Williams to double the post all game in an attempt to force the ball out of Happ’s hands, and the result will be mixed; some poor decisions but also some open three point attempts for Showalter, Koenig, Trice, and Brown.
Expect Wisconsin to play out of the post when doubled and get open looks. The first half should be competitive but you have to like Wisconsin’s chances of separating themselves in the second half. I predict LeDay picks up his fourth foul early on in the second half, and Wisconsin rolls from there. Va Tech will need a herculean offensive effort to put the pressure on the Badgers. I’ll take Wisconsin by a score of 73-58 when it is all said and done.
Score: Wisconsin 78, Virginia Tech 62
Why: Some will point out that Virginia Tech should know exactly what to expect, as its head coach is one Buzz Williams, the ex-head coach at Marquette. There is a little validity to that claim, as Williams was around for just one of the transformative seasons, the 2013-14 season. However, this is a very different team with a very different skill set even from that team.
Personally, I can’t get over Wisconsin’s massive size advantage and the fact that Ethan Happ is practically begging to be the hero here. Lately that has been a good thing on the scoreboard, as Happ put up an average of 14.7 points per game.
The other area people are pointing to is three-point shooting and Va Tech’s advantage there. Yes, it is true the Badgers shot a poor 35.7 percent from beyond the arc this season and is one of the worst against the three-point shot on defense. However, lately UW has been able to match what opponents are doing beyond the arc. Over the last four games, the Badgers have shot a dangerous 45.6 percent from three-point range and made an average of 9.5 three-pointers. That kind of production can offset anything Va Tech does beyond the arc.
All of that is well and good, but I firmly believe the Badgers get the job done defensively first and that has usually led to really good things happening on offense too. UW wins this one going away.