Wisconsin and Notre Dame both proved to have a flair for the dramatic. Like Wisconsin, which got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Bronson Koenig to advance, Notre Dame survived thanks to a late tap in by Rex Pflueger with 1.5 seconds left for a one-point win over Stephen F. Austin.
Although both teams will be refocused by the time they meet tonight inside the Wells Fargo Center, the Irish won’t be strangers to facing teams from the Big Ten. Wisconsin is the fifth Big Ten team Notre Dame will have faced this year, which includes a 70-63 victory over Michigan in the first round. The Irish are 3-1 against the Big Ten, only losing to Indiana in Indianapolis.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (22-12) as it strives to advance over Notre Dame (23-11) and make its third Elite Eight in three years.
Lay Up: Can Nigel Hayes get out of his offensive slump?
It is quite clear that Hayes is in a shooting slump, having shot a combined 7-for-42 (16.7 percent) in three postseason games. Considering Hayes is 5-for-27 in N.C.A.A. tournament games, it’s impressive that the Badgers have found ways to win without their leading scorer contributing much from an offensive standpoint.
What’s even more surprising about Hayes’ struggles is his constant misfires from 3-point range. Of Hayes’ 42 attempts, 17 have come from the perimeter, and he hasn’t made any of them. Hayes shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc last season after not attempting a single three as a true freshman. This season his percentage has dipped significantly to 28.7 percent (37-for-129).
What has been overlooked, however, is Hayes is finding other ways to contribute. In the two N.C.A.A. win, he has collected 13 rebounds, registered five assists, one steal and one block. If Hayes is going to snap out of his 3-point skid, Notre Dame is a good opponent to get open looks against, as the Irish were 13th in the ACC allowing conference teams to shoot 37.3 percent from three.
However, the best option for Hayes might be to attack the block or look for an open shot in his mid-range game. Notre Dame allowed teams to average 28.4 points a game in the paint during conference play and has given up 28 points through its two tournament games. It will be imperative for Hayes to be aggressive and generate contact. Notre Dame’s opponents only average 15.5 free throws a game this season and allowed only Michigan and Stephen F. Austin to have a combined 14 free throws attempts last weekend.
Already owning the UW single-season record for made free throws (189) and free throw attempts (256, Hayes is shooting 73.8 percent from the line this season and is 8-for-12 in the tournament.
Mid-Range Jumper: Winning the rebounding battle
Wisconsin did well attacking the glass last weekend against a pair of physical teams, winning the rebounding battle in both games and averaging 37.5 rebounds per game. Notre Dame allowed 34.1 rebounds during conference games but feasted on smaller teams last weekend, holding the Wolverines and Lumberjacks to an average of 26 rebounds.
While the Irish have limited defensive rebounds in the tournament, Notre Dame allowed Michigan and Stephen F. Austin to collect 11 and 14 offensive rebounds, respectively. Notre Dame nearly gives up as many offensive rebounds (11.5) as Wisconsin averages this season (11.3), rebounds the Badgers have converted into 10.9 second-chance points. Being able to generate those opportunities is one thing, but Wisconsin will also need to convert against a team that has given up 14.5 second-chance points over the last four games.
Wisconsin was the more aggressive team last weekend by being able to consistently win the loose balls. Doing that again will mean Wisconsin will have kept Zach Auguste neutralized, as the senior led the ACC and ranked 13th in the country with 10.9 rebound per game. Not only will UW have to box him out when it’s on offense, the Badgers can’t allow him to reset the Irish’s offensive possessions, as he averages 3.4 offensive rebounds a game.
Wisconsin has gone against a lot of talented post players this season, but Auguste is in contention for being the best, considering he’s posted 21 double-doubles this year and 25 games of double-digit rebounds. Whether it be Hayes, Vitto Brown or Ethan Happ defending Auguste on the block, Wisconsin needs to do a better job of defending without fouling. If the three get in foul trouble like they did against Xavier, Auguste could find success on the glass.
3-Pointer: Can Wisconsin keep Notre Dame out of the paint?
Notre Dame is rated the seventh most efficient offense in the country (scoring 118.9 points per 100 possessions), so it’s not surprising that they shoot 47.6 percent from the field on an average of 57 field goal attempts a game. If you examine the numbers a little closer, you’ll see that part of the reason why Notre Dame shoots so effectively is because they find ways of getting the ball into the paint.
Averaging 74.6 points a game during conference play, 45.1 percent of the Irish’s scoring came from inside. In the victory over Stephen F. Austin, 40 of the Irish’s 76 points came in the paint. This will be the main test for a Wisconsin team that held Big Ten opponents to 25.1 points a game in the paint.
Wisconsin has improved its defense thus far in the N.C.A.A. tournament, but the Badgers did allow the Musketeers to register 30 points in the lane in Sunday’s victory. In fact, the Badgers have allowed two of their three postseason opponents to score at least 30 points in the paint.
With Auguste being an effective rebounder, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s shooting 56.2 percent from the field and averaging 14.3 points a game, second on the team to Demetrius Jackson (15.5 ppg). Auguste generating second chance opportunities will allow him the opportunity to go up strong with the basketball or kick the ball out to the perimeter, where Notre Dame shoots 37.2 percent. In total five players for the Irish average double figures.
As mentioned above, Wisconsin has to slow down Auguste in the paint, but the Badgers also have to prevent Jackson from driving into the paint to either score or facilitate, as he averages 4.7 assists per game.
Zak Showalter could draw the matchup against Jackson and will need to show the same smart defense that helped push UW over the edge on Sunday. The key for UW is to force Jackson to settle for jump shots. Although he shoots 44.9 percent from the field, Jackson is only at 33.1 percent from 3-point range and shooting 28.5 percent overall over the last five games. If Showalter can keep Jackson from driving into the lane, Wisconsin has a great chance of shutting down the interior and limiting the Irish to one shot per possession.