A spot in the Elite Eight awaits the winner of Wisconsin and Notre Dame tonight

No program in the country has been to the Sweet 16 five times in the last six years, but a win by Wisconsin over Notre Dame tonight would make the Badgers just the third Big Ten program to make the Elite Eight in three straight years since the field expanded in 1985. We breakdown the matchup.

No.7 Wisconsin (22-12, 12-6 Big Ten) vs. No.6 Notre Dame (23-11, 11-7 ACC)

Date/Time – Friday, March 25, 6:27 p.m. central

Arena – Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (19,500)

Television – TBS (Brian Anderson, Steve Smith and Dana Jacobson)

Radio – Westwood One (Tom McCarthy and John Thompson) and Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas). Available on Sirius Channel 83 and XM Channel 202 and free online stream at www.ncaa.com/marchmadnesslive

Series – Notre Dame leads 18-10 (Series tied 1-1 in neutral sites)

Last Meeting – Notre Dame won, 58-51, on November 28, 2010, in Orlando, Fla.

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 the final 5:00 (and overtime) of games this season, Koenig is shooting 54.8 percent (17-31) from 3-point range

NOTRE DAME PROBABLE STARTERS

3 V.J. Beachem (6-8 Junior Forward, 11.6 ppg)

5 Matt Farrell (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 2.3 ppg)

11 Demetrius Jackson (6-1 Junior Guard, 15.5 ppg)

30 Zach Auguste (6-10 Senior Forward, 14.3 ppg)

32 Steve Vasturia (6-5 Junior Guard, 11.6 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 Rex Pflueger (6-6 Freshman Guard, 2.5 ppg)

4 Matt Ryan (6-8 Freshman Forward, 5.4 ppg)

35 Bonzie Colson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 11.4 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Auguste has posted 21 double-double this season (10+ points, 10+ rebounds), including 10 in the last 12 games. Those 21 games are sixth all-time in a single season at Notre Dame.

LAST TIME OUT

Stuck in a two week offensive slump, Koenig hit two clutch 3-point shots in the final 11.7 seconds, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lift No.7 Wisconsin to a 66-63 upset over No.2 Xavier at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center Sunday.

“I like to have the ball in my hands in those kind of situations because I believe in myself,” Koenig said, still wet from the water bath he received on the court and in the locker room. “I know my coaches and teammates believe in me, and that's what they did. It turned out all right.”

Even more remarkable was Koenig entered Sunday in one of the worst 3-point shooting slumps of his college career. He went 2-for-9 in the regular season finale at Purdue, 1-for-6 in the humbling Big Ten tournament loss to Nebraska and went 0-for-2 against Pittsburgh, ending his streak of 43 consecutive games with at least one 3-point make.

But there was no hesitation with UW inbounding the ball with 2.0 seconds left that Koenig wanted to take the shot. Although one of the primary options was junior Nigel Hayes in the post, Koenig told freshman Ethan Happ before he started the inbounds play that he wanted the ball.

“I went up to him and told him, pass to me if I'm open,” said Koenig. “And I got open. He did a great job of hitting me.”

Although off-balanced and with guard Remy Abell having both hands up defending, Koenig had no doubts after he took one dribbled and squared to shoot.

“I knew it was going in before it even left my hand because that's a shot I practice quite a bit pregame with Nigel Hayes one-on-one and I do a lot of step-backs in the corner,” said Koenig. “And I let it fly. And I knew it was going in. And I can't really explain the feeling after I hit it.”

Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard called the game “a microcosm” of the season, accurate considering the Badgers never backed down when adversity suggested it do otherwise.

The Badgers appeared done after Xavier (28-6) took a 58-49 advantage – the largest lead of the game. At the time the Musketeers were routinely getting to the free throw line (12-for-17), the Badgers were not (3-for-7) and UW’s shot selection was failing them (seven straight empty possessions, the last four of which were 3-pointers).

But slowly Wisconsin chipped away, closing the deficit to 61-59 with 2:11 left on an offensive rebound put back by Happ, who also delivered a block on the ensuing possession. With Hayes again struggling (2-for-10), Happ picked up the slack with a game-high 18 points and seven rebounds.

Scoring only once on its final six possessions, Xavier increased the lead to three with 31.2 seconds left until Koenig drilled a deep 3-pointer from nearly 25 feet on a busted play to tie the game with 11.7 seconds left.

Koenig his six 3-pointers in the game, four in the second half, to help UW close the game on a 17-5 run in the final 5:59.

LAST MEETING

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - A second-half spurt was enough for Wisconsin to shoot Notre Dame out of its zone defense, but it wasn't enough to run the Irish out of the gym.
A hot streak from 3-point range allowed the Badgers to pull ahead by 11 points midway through the second half of Sunday's Old Spice Classic championship game, but the cold snap that followed paved the way for Notre Dame to take the title.
The Irish (7-0) finished the game on a 15-0 run before UW senior forward Jon Leuer splashed a 3-pointer in the final seconds, allowing Notre Dame to pull away for a 58-51 win over the Badgers (4-2).

After the Badgers used a 9-0 run to build a 37-28 lead on the back of three consecutive 3-pointers by Leuer, Tim Jarmusz and Jordan Taylor, the Irish called a timeout, threw out their 2-3 zone defense and went man-to-man.
With the inside opened up, Jared Berggren converted back-to-back layups for the Badgers and Leuer hit a pair of free throws to extend the UW lead to 11 points, at 43-32, with 9:21 to play.

However, Wisconsin connected on just 3 of its final 13 shots from there, and the Irish put together a 26-5 run before Leuer's late trey provided the final margin.
"We had a stretch there where we got hot, but toward the end we missed some of the same looks, and that's just something we're going to have to improve on," Leuer said.

A 13-for-15 performance at the free-throw line down the stretch helped the Irish pile on the points. For the game, Notre Dame outscored the Badgers at the charity stripe by 16 points, converting 20 of 25 attempts from the line.

Leuer went 4-for-4 at the foul line - and had the Badgers' only free-throw attempts of the night. It was part of a game-high 19 for Leuer, who was named to the Old Spice Classic All-Tournament Team after averaging 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in UW's three games.
Junior point guard Jordan Taylor finished with 14 points and had five assists against a single turnover. As a team, the Badgers gave the ball away just four times and committed a total of seven turnovers in their final two games of the tournament.

SERIES NOTES

The Badgers are seeking their first win against Notre Dame since the two met for a game on Dec. 4, 1965, which went UW’s way in a 97-79 final.

The Badgers and Fighting Irish share seven common opponents this season: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh & Syracuse. Notre Dame went 4-3 against the opponents it shared with UW, while Wisconsin went 7-2 against the group (includes a season sweep of Illinois and season split with Indiana).

The Badgers are 41-40 all-time against current members of the ACC and have won 10 of their last 14 games against ACC foes. That includes wins in three of the last four N.C.A.A. tourney meetings with the ACC.

N.C.A.A. TOURNAMENT NOTES

The Badgers are the nation’s only team to have been to the Sweet 16 in five of the last six seasons.

Wisconsin has gone 15-5 in the NCAA tournament over the last six seasons. The Badgers’ 15 wins since 2011 rank second in the nation, trailing only Kentucky (20).

With a win over Notre Dame, the Badgers would reach the Elite Eight for the third straight season. Since the N.C.A.A. tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only two Big Ten teams have made three consecutive Elite Eights: Michigan State (1999-2001) and Michigan (1992-94).

Notre Dame has won five N.C.A.A. tournament victories in the past two years for the Irish, matching the 78-79 teams. Notre Dame has never won six tournament games over a two-year span.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in scoring defense allowing just 63.9 ppg. Among teams in the Sweet 16, Wisconsin ranks second, allowing just 53.0 ppg during the NCAA tournament (Syracuse leads 50.5 ppg).

The Badgers’ opponents are shooting just 39.2 percent during the N.C.A.A. tournament. During the regular season, UW opponents shot 42.8 percent from the field. Teams are also shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range against the Badgers during the tournament after connecting on 38.1 percent in the regular season.

Against Pitt, UW held the Panthers to just four points in the final 4:30. In the win over Xavier, the Badgers out-scored the Musketeers 17-5 over the final 6:00.

Happ leads Wisconsin averaging 16.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg while shooting 72.2 percent (13-18 FGs) during the N.C.A.A. tournament.

NOTRE DAME NOTES

Notre Dame overcame a 12-point halftime deficit in its first round N.C.A.A. victory over Michigan. It marked just the third time in N.C.A.A. play the Irish have rallied when trailing at halftime and the largest deficit ever overcome in the N.C.A.A. tourney.

Michigan and Stephen F. Austin combined to shoot 33 percent in the second half against the Irish last weekend. The Irish held Michigan to .281 shooting (9-32) and Stephen F. Austin to .387 shooting (12-31) in the second 20 minutes of the two victories in Brooklyn.

Auguste is shooting 70.5 percent in seven career N.C.A.A. tournament games (43-61). The minimum to qualify for the NCAA record book is 70 attempts. The NCAA tournament career record is Bill Walton’s 68.6.

After scoring just four points in four N.C.A.A. games last season, Beachem exploded for 33 points in Notre Dame’s two victories last weekend, including a team-high 18 points (7-for-7 from the field, 4-for-4 from 3-point range) in the win over Michigan.

PREDICTION

Notre Dame is one of the most efficient offenses remaining in the N.C.A.A. tournament, and yet the Irish do it with an adjusted tempo of 65.5 possessions in a 40 minute game (ranked 321st in the country). Wisconsin is ranked 24 spots behind the Irish in adjusted tempo but fall 78 spots behind them in adjusted offensive efficiency. Why? The Irish are opportunistic.

Notre Dame reminds Wisconsin a lot of Indiana, a team who will take advantage of a break in a team’s defense when it presents itself. If nothing materializes, the Irish will run an offense that’s based on screens, dribble-handoffs and dribble-attack plays. They motion well, shoot from the perimeter well and have bodies inside who can screen and roll.

“They are able to spread the floor, spread you out and they’ll make you pay if you are undisciplined,” assistant coach Howard Moore said. “They are really good at getting into the teeth of the defense, kicking it (to the perimeter) or attacking the rim.”

This is a key principle game for Wisconsin, one that demands that the Badgers stick to their keys and not have many defensive lapses. Two weeks ago one would think Wisconsin would be in trouble. The Badgers had just given up 91 points to Purdue and got smacked around by a porous Nebraska team. Not only was the team that held Pittsburgh to 43 points and Xavier 17 points under its average nowhere to be found early in March, that type of effort hadn’t been seen all year.

“Sixty days ago we couldn't defend like we did last weekend,” Gard said. “Our toughness level and our commitment to the defensive end has grown exponentially in the last two, three weeks, but really showed its face last weekend.”

Notre Dame’s personnel creates some intriguing matchup possibilities for Wisconsin, which will have to be good with its transition defense, closing gaps to limit dribble penetration and defending the perimeter against the Irish’s shooters. Auguste has quick feet and plays with intensity at the rim, something that will be a wakeup call for Happ. Beachem played on the same AAU team has Hayes. Unlike Wisconsin’s junior, Beachem is red-hot shooting, having shot 50 percent from the field over the last two games, and Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey joked he’s going to “play him a lot.” Brey added the key for the Irish is to get up and run on Wisconsin, since the Badgers’ set defense is so strong.

But as good as the Irish sound, their recent performance says otherwise. Notre Dame is only 5-4 since mid-February with three losses by at least 18 points. The Irish are also the worst defensive team remaining in the 12-team field, as their 103.9 points allowed per 100 possessions is 172nd in the country. Wisconsin can certainly exploit that with Happ, Koenig and even Hayes, who is due to start getting the ball into the basket with some consistency.

Wisconsin certainly can’t replicate what it did the last two years because the Badgers don’t have the same pieces and experience. However, UW can manufacture offense and relying on its suddenly stellar defense is one of them.

“The biggest thing is they figured out pretty quickly in order for us to be a good team, we were going to have to be a good defensive team first,” Gard said, “then the offense will come.”
The Badgers are more battled tested in this tournament than the Irish, which plays a huge factor in these toss-up games. If Wisconsin can continue running its set defense with suffocating efficiency, get some balance offensively with UW finding open shooters off the inevitable double teams Notre Dame will send at Happ and Hayes and knock down some shots, the Badgers will advance to their third straight Elite Eight with a 7-point win.

Worgull's Record: 24-10

Points off Prediction: 315 (9.0 per game)


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