Wisconsin and Xavier square off in an N.C.A.A. tournament second-round matchup tonight on St. Louis

Having won four straight second-round games dating back to 2011, No.7 Wisconsin will have its hands full tonight when it faces No.2 Xavier at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for a spot in the Sweet 16. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

No.7 Wisconsin (21-12, 12-6 Big Ten) vs. No.2 Xavier (28-5, 14-4 Big East)

Date/Time – Sunday, March 20, 7:40 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 – Series tied 2-2 (Xavier leads 1-0 in neutral sites)

Last Meeting – Xavier won, 60-49, on March 22, 2009, in Boise, Idaho

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.5 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.2 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 12.2 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.1 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.7 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 3.0 ppg)

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.5 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 2.6 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.2 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

In his first N.C.A.A. tournament game, Happ led the Badgers in points (15), rebounds (nine) and assists (three). Happ has scored in double figures in five straight games and is averaging 14.0 ppg over the last five games.

XAVIER PROBABLE STARTERS

1 Jalen Reynolds (6-10 Junior Forward, 9.5 ppg)

4 Edmond Summer (6-6 Freshman Guard, 11.0 ppg)

5 Trevon Bluiett (6-6 Sophomore Guard, 15.3 ppg)

10 Remy Abell (6-4 Senior Guard, 6.2 ppg)

15 Myles Davis (6-2 Junior Guard, 10.9 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

2 James Farr (6-10 Senior Forward, 11.0 ppg)

22 Kaiser Gates (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.3 ppg)

55 J.P. Macura (6-5 Sophomore Guard, 9.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Leading Xavier with 18 points and 15 rebounds in the first-round win over Weber State, Farr, has averaged 15 points on 58.6 percent shooting over the last seven games.

LAST TIME OUT

ST. LOUIS – After being pushed around for the last five halves, the latest in which its 16 first-half points were the fewest scored of any team in the N.C.A.A. tournament, Wisconsin finally got physical on defense and scratched out enough baskets to survive an ugly 47-43 victory over No.10 Pittsburgh at the Scottrade Center Friday.

Survive and advance the Badgers (21-12) did, leading for only 3 minutes, 49 seconds and becoming the first team to win an N.C.A.A. tournament game scoring less than 50 points since 2003. It marked the fourth straight season UW won a game scoring in the 40s and the fewest points the program has scored in an N.C.A.A. tournament win since the 1941 title game.

“This game obviously came down to being able to get stops defensively when offensively the gears were grinding,” Gard said. “We were having a hard time putting the ball in the basket. But to be able to defensively lock down and really play, probably defensively, as well as we played in a long time.”

Saying earlier this week that Wisconsin’s tournament run will be dependent of the success of UW’s two best players, Gard saw Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig go a combined 4-for-25. Hayes finished with 12 and Koenig only two, but both were picked up by Ethan Happ registering a game-high 15 points and 9 rebounds.

Following the freshman’s lead, Brown scored eight of his 11 after halftime, including a 3-pointer to give UW a 44-42 lead with 2:35 to go.

UW never trailed after that, closing out the game on an 8-3 run. Wisconsin shot only 32.1 percent but saw Pittsburgh (21-12) shoot only 37.5 percent, as the two teams combined for the third fewest points in tournament history.

Four times UW tied or took the lead in the first 17 minutes of the second half, only to see Pittsburgh reclaim it on the ensuing possession. UW never led by more than four points and couldn’t exhale until James Robinson (7 points, 3-for-15) ran into teammate Michael Young (six) with four seconds left, causing a miss that would have put the Panthers ahead by one.

Pitt never got the ball back, as UW held Pittsburgh’s three double-digit scorers (Young, Jamel Artis and Robinson) below their season averages.

After Pitt scored its first 10 points inside, leading to a 16-6 edge in the first half, and beat UW, 22-16, on the boards, Wisconsin out rebounded Pittsburgh by seven in the second, including nine offensive rebounds that led to 14 second-chance points.

LAST MEETING

BOISE, Idaho -- Xavier needed only a small window to crack Wisconsin's plodding defense and finally pull ahead. Once the Musketeers broke through, they smothered any comeback, holding the Badgers to 25 percent shooting in the second half of a 60-49 victory Sunday in the East Regional.

Wisconsin controlled the pace for the first 30 minutes before Xavier pulled away with a 13-4 run, then hung on with free throws and defense even tighter than Wisconsin's. The Badgers (20-13) were 16-for-56 from the floor and made three of 20 3-point attempts.

An Elite Eight team the previous year, the Musketeers (27-7) were 18-for-46 from the floor and just 18-for-26 from the foul line.

Wisconsin kept Xavier off balance, but the tight defense wasn't quite enough to overcome 29 percent shooting.

"It's a whole different story if guys knock down just a few shots," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.

Marcus Landry had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Wisconsin, and Trevon Hughes had 17 points, but was just 3-for-16 from the floor two days after his acrobatic shot beat Florida State in the first round.

SERIES NOTES

UW is 94-85 all-time against teams in the Big East conference but is 0-2 this season with losses to Georgetown and Marquette. Xavier went 3-0 against Marquette and 1-1 against Georgetown. Both schools also beat Michigan.

The Badgers are 1-0 all-time against No. 2 seeds, beating Arizona, 84-78, in the 2015 Elite Eight.

Xavier is 4-4 against Big Ten teams in the N.C.A.A. tournament and have won its last three meetings. Wisconsin is 1-2 against teams currently in the Big East in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

N.C.A.A. TOURNAMENT NOTES

Wisconsin improved to 35-20 (.636) all-time in the N.C.A.A. tournament and 1-0 under head coach Greg Gard.

Wisconsin has gone 14-5 in the N.C.A.A. tournament over the last six seasons. The Badgers’ 14 wins since 2011 rank third in the nation, trailing only Kentucky (20) and Louisville (15).

Wisconsin has won four straight second-round games dating back to 2011

The Badgers have been to the Sweet 16 in four of the last five seasons – no team has made more appearances. Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State are the only other schools to appear in four of the last five Sweet 16s.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Wisconsin erased a 22-16 halftime de?cit to beat Pitt, its largest comeback win in an N.C.A.A. tournament game since trailing Oregon, 49-37 in the second round of the 2014 tournament. UW would win that game, 85-77. The Badgers have actually trailed in five of their last 11 N.C.A.A. tournament games – all wins.

The Panthers’ 43 points equaled the fourth-fewest for a Badgers’ N.C.A.A. tournament opponent.

After going 6-for-8 from the free throw line Friday, Hayes has now attempted 252 free throws this season, breaking the school’s record for free throw attempts in a season.

Brown entered Friday’s game with zero N.C.A.A. tournament points in 13 career minutes, but finished with 11 points (3-for-5 from 3-point range) in 34 minutes.

XAVIER NOTES

Reynolds has had the most N.C.A.A. success of any current Musketeer, averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 rebounds in five games.

Xavier has won eight of its last nine and nine of its last 11 games against eight different teams from the Big Ten Conference since the 2006-07 season.

Xavier is 11-3 against teams in this year’s tournament, with nine of those games being played on the road or at a neutral site.

Xavier is 26-0 this season when leading at the half and 26-0 when shooting at least 40 percent. XU is 22-1 when having at least four players score in double figures. All three of those trends held true in Xavier’s N.C.A.A. First Round win.

PREDICTION

This game tonight is built on contrasting styles, which could spell bad news for Wisconsin if the Badgers can’t successfully stick to their tempo and hit some shots.

Xavier has four players with double-figure scoring averages and two more at 9.5 ppg. Knowing that, it’s not surprising that the Musketeers have balance with seven different players leading the team in scoring at least twice this season.

XU is 22-1 this season when at least four players score in double figures and pride itself on toughness, perhaps even more than the Panthers.

“They're another team with physical presence inside,” Showalter said. “I think we saw it in Pitt (Friday) night, but I think this team takes it up to another level. So we're going to have to stop that, take them out of it and they've got a lot more shooters. They've got shot-makers, and we can't let them get any open looks."

Xavier coach Chris Mack is hopeful that pace plays into the Musketeers’ hands. Of the remaining 24 teams in the field, the Musketeers have the fastest tempo – averaging 72.5 possessions per 40 minutes. On the other end of the spectrum, Wisconsin is 345th out of 351 teams with 63.9 possessions per 40 minutes.

The slowest team in the Big East is Villanova at 67.3 possessions (257th in the country). Xavier and Villanova split its two meetings this season, each winning on its home court.

“Since the pace is going to be what it is, we're just going to have to play that way,” Mack said. “You try to speed teams up. Wisconsin isn't as slow as one may think. They're going to be opportunistic in transition. But it's a basketball game. Whether there's 30 possessions or 70 possessions, we have to put the ball in the basket more than they do.”

“We want to play at our pace,” Showalter said. “I think we've done a good job this year not playing too much out of our style. So I think that's definitely an advantage to our team, and we want to probably look forward to do that come (tonight).”

Added Happ: “On average we do play kind of slow, but it's not like we're trying to walk the ball up the court. If we have something available in transition, we're definitely going to take that. And we need to get back on defense and stop their transition.”

Wisconsin has proven to be able to succeed playing varying degrees of basketball, including winning high-possession games over Indiana and Michigan State. But the reason UW won those games was the Badgers made shots, hitting 44.7 percent against the Spartans and 52.7 against the Hoosiers. The Badgers also got to the free throw line an average of 36.5 times in those two wins.

Those teams also didn’t have Bluierr, who has scored in double figures in 31 games this year and is as big and physical as anyone UW has come across. There’s also the fact that Xavier has big bodies and is deep off the bench. UW can say its seen teams like this in the Big Ten, but Xavier is a different animal.

Wisconsin players said Xavier plays a lot like Purdue, which is a red flag considering how much the Badgers struggled with the aggressiveness of the Boilermakers in the low block. If the Wisconsin was playing this game during its hot streak a month ago, I’d feel better about its chances to advance to the Sweet 16. But considering this team has slumped offensively in three of the last four games, I believe the season ends tonight for UW. Xavier by 14.

Worgull's Record: 24-9

Points off Prediction: 298 (9.0 per game)


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