PHILADELPHIA – Last week, Irish Illustrated tapped into the scouting report offered by Notre Dame assistant coach Rod Balanis, who had game duties leading up to the Round of 32 clash with Stephen F. Austin in Brooklyn.
Balanis has scouting duties this week with Sweet 16 opponent Wisconsin. If the Irish defeat the Badgers Friday night, Irish Illustrated will call on assistant Martin Ingelsby (North Carolina) or Anthony Solomon (Indiana), depending upon which team wins the nightcap at Wells Fargo Center.
Wisconsin is, in many respects, constructed similarly to Notre Dame. As Mike Brey puts it, both programs recruit skilled shooters with high basketball IQs. Neither program consistently corners the market on NBA talent.
Yet the Badgers and Irish have had their share of professional-level players in recent years with Wisconsin boasting a pair of first-round draft choices en route to back-to-back Final Fours – Frank Kaminsky III and Sam Dekker – while the Irish had first-rounder Jerian Grant and second-rounder Pat Connaughton last year.
Demetrius Jackson is a future first-round draft choice, and Zach Auguste has been one of the most dominant big men in the nation this season. Wisconsin boasts first-team all-Big Ten big man Nigel Hayes.
It’s a battle of similar styles/talent Friday night as Wisconsin shoots for its third straight Elite 8 trip and the Irish pursue their second in a row.
Here’s what Balanis said about the Badgers and their matchup with the Irish.
“Because of their tempo and the pace they like to play, Wisconsin will be playing long possessions. They’ll try to push it initially, especially with (Bronson) Koenig, to see if they can get something with an early ball screen. But if not, they’re going to grind you. That’s the way they’ve always been.
“Where they get to a lot of people is late in the shot clock. You’ve been playing defense for 20 seconds, you’re not patient, and then all of a sudden, you get caught on a down screen and (Zak) Showalter is popping out for a three-pointer.
“One of the key plays in their win over Pittsburgh was that Pittsburgh fell asleep on Vitto Brown, and (Nigel) Hayes popped out for a three-pointer late because (Pittsburgh) was ball-watching. You just can’t ball-watch late in the clock because they’ve got a lot of threats out there.
“Everybody talks about our motion offense, but similar to us, Wisconsin’s offense is based on spacing. We try to space the floor, four-around-one, and that’s really what the swing offense that Wisconsin runs is about. It’s similar tendencies to us. They probably post feed a little more than we do, but they put their guys in position to be successful (offensively).
“You talk about the contrast of styles in the NCAA tournament. (Against Stephen F. Austin), we couldn’t even complete a pass. It tests your maturity and your patience. (Against Wisconsin), you’re going to be able to complete some passes, but you’re not going to be able to get into the lane.
“They don’t allow lane penetration. Their three-point defense has not been great this year, so there are going to be opportunities (to shoot threes) for sure.
“Because they’re back (in their half-court defense) and they’re in position, it puts them in position to block out. That’s a big emphasis for them. They’re not too overly extended, which makes getting offensive rebounds difficult.
“Their philosophy is we’re going to run you off the three-point line and we’re going to take away layups. So can you make some tough twos and can we make you take enough tough twos? They’re going to be in a position to make you go one-and-done.
“That’s why they’ve had one of the most successful programs. They do it well and they recruit to it. They do a great job of development, kind of like us. That’s why I have a lot of respect for them.
“One of the keys with us all year is, ‘Don’t foul.’ Don’t just put guys on the line, and that will be a key for us against Wisconsin. Don’t foul Hayes, don’t foul (Ethan) Happ, don’t foul Koenig on the drive. Make those guys earn buckets and hopefully, they’re tough twos.
“Wisconsin is a good three-point shooting team. They have a bunch of guys who are really good at shooting it. Koenig is an unbelievable shooter.
“I remember watching Vitto Brown in high school, and it baffles my mind that he’s become the shooter he is. Give the kid and their staff credit. He’s worked really hard. They’ve done a lot to develop him. We’ve got to treat him like a big-time shooter, a big-time pick-and-pop guy.
“Showalter is more than capable. He can be a little reluctant at times to shoot. Nigel Hayes can do it. I know he’s struggled, but he’s more than capable of doing it.
“Similar to us, they’re a good passing team, so when they post, and you want to come down and dig in the post, Nigel Hayes leads the team in assists. So we’ve got to be smart about how we help out and doing our work in the post.
“With Hayes, we’re going to treat him like he’s not in a (shooting) slump. We’re talking about the different areas where he’s going to catch the ball, which is a lot of areas.
“The biggest thing with Hayes is you’ve got to be disciplined in your stance. He’s very good with footwork and shot fakes. He’s really terrific in that way, and he stays disciplined.
“We need to get a late challenge on the jump shot. If we do that and he shoots over a strong chest, he’s going to make a few. He’s a great player. He really is. He’s a first-team all-Big Ten and he has a chance to be an NBA player. If we can make him earn tough twos, we’ve done our job.
“One of the reasons we inserted Matt Farrell into the rotation was to help our offense. (Steve) Vasturia and (Demetrius) Jackson have been our rocks at guard, but we were struggling in the ACC tournament. We needed another ball-handler to help those guys.
“(Farrell) hasn’t played a lot, but when he wasn’t playing in games, he was guarding Demetrius Jackson in practice. He was doing a great job of keeping Demetrius in front of him. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that (Farrell) kept (Michigan guard) Derrick Walton in front of him, or those guards from Stephen F. Austin.
“He has his hands full with Koenig and Showalter, but I feel confident he can keep a guy in front. He goes against one of the best penetrators in the country every day in practice and does a good job.
“Bonzie Colson didn’t play a lot in the Stephen F. Austin game and he’s one of our best players. I anticipate that Bonzie Colson will play a lot in this game to help us out with Hayes and Happ. They’ve got to guard Bonzie on the other end, too. Matchups dictate.”