After a spectacular regular season in which Wisconsin swept the Big Ten titles and tied the school record for 31 wins, the Badgers will make their 21st appearance in the NCAA tournament – and 17th straight (fourth longest active streak in the country) – tomorrow night against 16th-seed Coastal Carolina.
Heading to the NCAA tournament for a fourth time, the Chanticleers (24-9, 12-6 Big South) are making consecutive appearances in the dance for the first time in school history. Wisconsin is 11-2 in opening round NCAA tournament games under head coach Bo Ryan and went 13-2 against teams in the NCAA tournament field.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for top-seeded Wisconsin as it strives to win against 16th-seed Coastal Carolina.
Lay up: Creating turnovers
Coastal Carolina won’t be intimidated by Wisconsin considering the Chanticleers were in the same position a year ago. A 16 seed playing Virginia, Coastal Carolina led by as many as 10 points and led by five at halftime before ultimately being worn down late by the Cavaliers.
Hoping to avoid a similar fate, Wisconsin will need to have a quick offensive start, something that the Badgers struggled with during their three Big Ten tournament games. One way of doing that is by forcing the Chanticleers into turnovers, as they average 11.9 a game and have only committed single-digit turnovers in nine of their games. Only once this year have the Chanticleers posted back-to-back games where they committed single digit turnovers.
Wisconsin hasn’t necessarily been able to force its opponents into a high turnover rate this year, as teams are only averaging 10 turnovers a game and only five Big Ten teams committed double-digit turnovers against the Badgers. But if you look at the stats from the nonconference season it makes you think that Wisconsin will be able to force plenty of miscues Friday, as nonconference opponents averaged 12.5 turnovers a game.
Warren Gillis leads the Chanticleers in turnovers with 2.5 a game. In the three games against the three teams from power five conference, Gillis averaged 2.3 miscues a game. In the three games in the Big South tournament, he had a minimum of four turnovers each game. Josh Gasser will need to be ready to defend him and force him into uncomfortable situations on offense. If Gasser can be successful in that area, Wisconsin should be able to get in transition and consistently get points off the miscues, as the Badgers are averaging 12.8 points off turnovers.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin win the rebounding battle?
At first glance of Coastal Carolina’s roster, it would appear Wisconsin should win the rebounding battle. But despite having no starter above 6-7 and nobody in the rotation above 6-8, Coastal Carolina has shown they can rebound. They average 39.8 rebounds a game, which ranks sixth in the NCAA, and ranks fourth in the NCAA with a plus-8.6 rebounding margin.
Wisconsin ranks 25th in rebounding margin with a plus-6 advantage. The combination of Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky combine to collect 42.7 percent of the teams 33.7 rebounds a game. For the Badgers to have an edge, the duo will have to aggressively attack the rim and consistently find ways of grabbing offensive rebounds to help wear down Coastal Carolina’s defense over the course of the game.
In Wisconsin’s most recent matchup, despite having the height advantage, the Badgers lost the rebounding battle to an athletic Michigan State squad, including getting only four offensive rebounds. The Spartans’ frontcourt is more athletic than Coastal Carolina, but the Chanticleers’ aggressive style has allowed them to win a fair number of rebounding battles.
In particular Wisconsin will have to be ready for the 6-7 Badou Diagne, as he leads the team with 7.4 offensive rebounds a game. The junior has registered nine double-double, 11 games of double-digit rebounds and has had success against teams in the power five conference this season (11 vs. UCLA, 10 vs. Ole Miss, 9 vs. Auburn). Whoever is responsible to box out Diagne will need to limit good angle to the rim and be physical.
3-pointer: Slowing down Coastal Carolina’s guard play
The guards for Wisconsin will have to be careful of Gillis and Racine native Josh Cameron, as the duo average a combined 26 points a game. Gillis shoots 43.2 percent from the field while Cameron shoots at a 42.4 percent clip. Both have shown the capability of making the difficult shot, even with is a hand in their face.
If Wisconsin allows either one to get into a rhythm it could mean trouble for the UW defense. Gasser has played terrific defense as of late, as he was able to hold Michigan State’s Travis Trice to six points after he scored a minimum of 16 points in eight straight games.
Gasser was able to play Trice aggressive throughout the tournament finals and made sure to keep a hand in his face to try and make him uncomfortable whenever he touched the ball. It’s a recipe that Gasser will have to continue to follow considering the Chanticleers have four players who average double figures in scoring.
While Gillis shoots a good percentage, he has struggled to shoot from 3-point range, averaging just 31 percent for the season and 31.6 percent for his career. If Wisconsin limits driving lanes, it will limit Gillis’ options on offense, especially since he loves driving the ball and drawing fouls. On the season, Gillis is shooting 87 percent from the free throw line.
Koenig will likely be assigned to Cameron, who is a better 3-point shooter than his teammate. While Cameron has the ability to attack the lane, he is making 36.5 percent from 3-point range this year and averages close to two made 3s a game.
If Koenig and Gasser prevent Cameron or Gillis from getting behind the defense, limiting rebounds and pushing tempo in transition, Wisconsin will be able to avoid the historic upset.