No.10 Pittsburgh (21-11, 9-9 ACC) vs. No.7 Wisconsin (20-12, 12-6 Big Ten)
Date/Time – Friday, March 18, 5:50 p.m. central
Arena – Scottrade Center in St. Louis (18,345)
Television – TNT (Brian Anderson, Steve Smith and Dana Jacobson)
Radio – Westwood One (Wayne Larrivee and Will Perdue) and Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 11-7 (Pittsburgh leads 2-0 in neutral sites)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 89-75, on December 16, 2006, in Madison
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.6 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.3 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 12.1 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.4 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.7 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 3.1 ppg)
15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.5 ppg)
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)
24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.3 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
The first Wisconsin players to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year since Sam Okey (1996), Happ is second in Big Ten with nine double-doubles and leads the Big Ten with 58 steals.
PITTSBURGH PROBABLE STARTERS
0 James Robinson (6-3 Senior Guard, 10.3 ppg)
1 Jamel Artis (6-7 Junior Forward, 14.4 ppg)
2 Michael Young (6-9 Junior Forward, 16.0 ppg)
5 Rafael Maia (6-9 Senior Forward, 2.1 ppg)
12 Chris Jones (6-6 Junior Forward, 6.1 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
3 Damon Wilson (6-5 Freshman Guard, 3.4 ppg)
4 Ryan Luther (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 5.2 ppg)
21 Sheldon Jeter (6-8 Junior Forward, 8.0 ppg)
22 Cameron Johnson (6-7 Freshman Forward, 4.9 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Playing at least 23 minutes in each of the last three games, Johnson came off the bench to score a career-best 24 points in Pitt’s ACC Tournament win over Syracuse.
LAST TIME OUT
INDIANAPOLIS – Flat on both ends of the court, resulting in shots not falling and sluggish defensive rotations opening up driving lanes, sixth-seeded Wisconsin meekly bowed out of the Big Ten tournament to a hungrier, more determined 11th-seeded Nebraska in a 70-58 defeat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It was ugly in every sense of the word – a game that was a grind in the low post that lacked flow and rhythm for UW’s two main forwards. Doubled and roughed up every time they touched the ball, Happ (17 points, 5-for-11) and Hayes (10, 2-for-15) developed nothing.
Shots didn’t fall, rhythm was lacking and the defense missed rotations that open up driving lanes to the rim. In short, Wisconsin was more like the team that looked lost during the nonconference schedule than the one that made life miserable for conference teams in late January and February.
“We didn’t play with that hunger that we had been,” said Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore. “At times when we were getting on a streak and winning games, it was because of our drive and determination to play together and try to outwork people. Tonight we got outworked.”
Nebraska shot 46.9 percent and put four players in double figures, but the one that hurt Wisconsin the most didn’t even play in the 72-61 Badgers victory in Madison Feb.10. Missing that game because of a concussion, Shavon Shields made up for it by dropping a game-high 20 points.
“They really played around him and played off his energy,” said junior Zak Showalter of Shields. “For him to get that swagger, we wanted to take him out of that. Unfortunately we didn’t do that.”
It’s the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1998 that Wisconsin failed to advance to the quarterfinals, a loss they blame on failing to follow its defensive principles, fundamentals and a lack of discipline.
Nebraska beat up Wisconsin with 30 points in the paint, eight fast break points and had its bench outscore Wisconsin’s 18-2. The Huskers also shot 51.2 percent in the second half, marking the third time in the last four halves that the Badgers have allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent from the field.
In addition to the low-post woes, UW went 4-for-20 from 3-point range, including 1-for-6 from Bronson Koenig, 0-for-3 from Showalter and 1-for-6 from Hayes and was also outrebounded 38-33.
Wisconsin was lackluster from the beginning. In the first 20 minutes it shot only 29.2 percent, committed seven turnovers in 31 possessions and went 4-for-9 from the free throw line. Brown scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting. The rest of the roster went 2-for-19.
Wisconsin certainly had its chances, four times cutting a Nebraska 7-point lead down to single digits in the second half before seeing its offense collapse or its defense leak, resulting in them being right back where they started.
After cutting the lead to 55-52, Wisconsin had four straight empty possessions (two turnovers, two missed 3-pointers) that allowed Nebraska to go on a 6-0 run for its largest lead with 3:47 remaining.
Koenig’s 3-pointer with 1:53 remaining closed the deficit to 63-57, but Nebraska closed the game on a 7-1 run with the Badgers getting the one free throw make on the final six possessions.
MADISON – Junior Brian Butch couldn’t be stopped during the second part of the first half that saw the Badgers score on 12 out of 14 possessions. Whether it was a perimeter jumper or grinding it out in the post, Butch scored 14 of his 20 first-half points during that span, finishing the game with a career-high 27 points in leading the Badgers to a convincing victory over Pittsburgh.
“For us to see him do the things he was doing in the first half, that’s big for us,” said Alando Tucker, who had a game-high 32 points. “A couple practices ago, he was struggling on his confidence. The coaches were riding him to try and get the best out of him and I kept telling him to just play your game. This is definitely one of the biggest games I have ever seen Brian play.”
The way Butch started the game looked like the junior was going to continue his quiet, but consistent, play. Coming into the game averaging less than 10 points per contest, Butch scored four points and grabbed two rebounds in the first ten minutes.
That quickly changed during that Badger scoring spurt, as Butch found the bottom of the net four times during Wisconsin’s seven straight scoring possessions.
Despite the short jumpers working, Butch knew that he was in for a good day when he hit only his third three of the year in 14 tries.
“Once that three went, and I haven’t had many this year, I was pretty happy,” Butch said.
Butch was far from done in the first half, scoring on Wisconsin’s last three possessions, including hitting another three pointer, to cap a 20-9 Wisconsin run to end the half and give Wisconsin a 10-point margin at the break.
With Butch and Tucker having 40 of Wisconsin’s 47 points at halftime, Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon felt that his team had run into Butch at the worst time.
“When two guys have 20 at the half, you’re in a tough situation,” Dixon said. “Obviously, he shot the ball well, shot it better than he has shot it. We didn’t plan to leave him as open a couple times as we did, but he made some shots.
“He’s a McDonalds All-American and a big time player,” he added. “He was a guy who stretched us out defensively. Making those shots really gave them another advantage that helped them out.”
While his scoring dimensioned in the second half, Butch’s aggressiveness on the boards did not. Butch corralled five rebounds in the second, giving him 11 for the game, and dished three assists. More importantly, Butch connected from the free throw line, going 9-for-12 in the game.
The Badgers and Panthers have split a pair of NCAA tournament matchups. UW posted a 36-30 win over Pitt in the regional finals on its way to winning the 1941 National Championship. In 2004, No. 3-seeded Pitt topped No. 6 Wisconsin, 59-55, in the round of 32 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
The Badgers are 40-40 all-time against current members of the ACC and have won 9 of their last 13 games against ACC foes.
Pitt is 2-2 against Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin is 4-4 against teams currently in the ACC in the NCAA tournament.
NCAA TOURNAMENT NOTES
UW is making its 22nd appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Badgers are 34-20 (.630) all-time in the Big Dance, advancing to four Final Fours and winning the 1941 NCAA title.
UW has been seeded seventh or higher in nine of the last 10 years.
Wisconsin has qualified for each of the last 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments, the fifth-longest streak in NCAA history and second-longest streak in Big Ten history.
Pitt is 24-26 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 12-10 mark under Jamie Dixon.
Pitt has made the NCAA Tournament in 13 of the past 15 seasons, tied for seventh-most appearances in the NCAA (second among ACC teams) in that span.
Pitt is 1-2 overall as a 10-seed. Wisconsin is 0-1 as a 7-seed.
With 1,311 career points, Hayes ranks 17th on Wisconsin’s all-time scoring list. He is 29 points away from passing Trevon Hughes (2007-10) for 16th place in UW annals.
Over the last 11 games, Koenig has a total of just 11 turnovers in a span of 367 minutes played.
Wisconsin’s starting five is shooting 72.8 percent (438- for-602) from the free throw line this season.
UW has risen to No. 23 in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, averaging 95.3 points per 100 possessions.
The Panthers are 5-5 on the season against NCAA Tournament qualifiers. Young is averaging a team-high 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in those contests.
Pitt ranks 14th in the NCAA in assists (16.9 apg.) and is 18-1 on the season when registering 15 or more assists in a game. The Panthers are also first in the ACC and 15th nationally in assist percentage (.629).
The Panthers are tied for 23rd nationally in KenPom.com raw offensive efficiency at 112.7 points per 100 possessions. Pitt is one of six ACC teams ranked in the top 25 in that category.
Pitt has had 28 double-figure scoring games off the bench on the year and averages 25.8 bench points per game.
After a stunning loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament gave the Badgers an unexpected week off, head coach Greg Gard said the time away from competitive basketball has helped his team. Why?
“I don’t have any other choice to answer it any other way,” he joked.
But after the stretch of demanding road games Wisconsin was on, and having to play with high intensity and energy to get itself back in the tournament field, a week away after two clunkers isn’t the worst thing in the world. And when playing a team with the physicality and talent of Pittsburgh, getting some extra days to rest up certainly doesn’t hurt.
Young (16.0) and Artis (14.4) combine to average 30.4 points per game on 50.6 percent (347-of-686) shooting from the field and 78.0 percent (230-of-295) shooting from the free throw line. Either Young or Artis has led the team in scoring in 26 of Pitt’s 32 games
“We know those guys contribute and carry most of the load for them,” said Hayes. “It's going to be important, obviously, if we want to win, we have to not only score more points but don't allow them to score as many. We know they're both great players. They present tough matchups for us.”
They aren’t the only ones. Robinson owns an NCAA-best 3.45:1 career assist-to-turnover ratio, having been turnover-free 13 times this season and is fourth in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.95:1). Jeter, one of the top sixth-men in the ACC, averages 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures 12 times and is shooting 53.2 percent (100-of-188) from the field.
It’s a team the Badgers haven’t seen in nearly a decade but personnel that Wisconsin feels that they are comfortable with.
“We have always tried to take correlations when we see a team out of conference or in tournament play and try to give them some comparisons,” said Gard. “We’ve used Purdue as an example with Pitt. We’ve always used Nebraska to an extent with Shavon Shields and Andrew White in terms of player identification and who they play like. (Purdue freshman Caleb) Swanigan is a good example of Michael Young. They know enough about college basketball. As I’m starting to talk to Vitto about Michael Young, he says, ‘Oh yeah, coach, I played against him’ … They’ll catch up pretty fast in terms of their knowledge base.”
Wisconsin’s record in the first round of the N.C.A.A. tournament since Gard came on the bench is outstanding – 12-2 in tournament openers and winning eight of the past nine. In UW’s last nine opening-round games, opponents have scored an average of just 55.3 points per game. Over that stretch, only three of the nine opening opponents have reached 60 points vs. the Badgers.
I worry about Wisconsin bringing forth enough defensive energy to consistently stop Pitt’s offense (UW has allowed a team to shoot over 60 percent three times in the past four halves) and keep them off the glass (five players have at least 40 offensive rebounds), but the Badgers’ tempo plays in their favor against a Panthers team that is inconsistent defensively (ranked 84th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency).
If UW looks anything like the team we saw in February, and I think they’ll make an appearance tonight, the Badgers win by six.
Worgull's Record: 23-9
Points off Prediction: 296 (9.3 per game)