Mark Konezny/USA Today Sports

Badgers Breakdown: Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech

Earning an eighth-seed in this year's N.C.A.A. tournament, Wisconsin begins its N.C.A.A. tournament run tonight in Buffalo, N.Y., against ninth-seed Virginia Tech. We break down the match-up.

No.9 Virginia Tech (22-10, 12-8 ACC) vs. No.8 Wisconsin (25-9, 12-6 Big Ten)  

Date/Time – Thursday, March 16, approximately 8:40 p.m. central

Arena – Buffalo’s KeyBank Center (19,200) 

Television – CBS (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce) 

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 1-0 (First meeting on neutral courts)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 74-72, on December 1, 2008, in Blacksburg, VA

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.3 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.5 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 14.1 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 13.9 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 6.7 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 5.9 ppg)

1 Brevin Pritzl (6-3 Freshman Guard, 2.0 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 3.7ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH 

The only UW player to tally 1,800 points, 700 rebounds and 300 assists, Hayes leads all active players with 131 points scored in N.C.A.A. tournament games.

VIRGINIA TECH PROBABLE STARTERS

2 Khadim Sy (6-10 Freshman Forward, 4.0 ppg)

5 Justin Robinson (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 10.3 ppg)

10 Justin Bibbs (6-5 Junior Guard, 9.2 ppg)

13 Ahmed Hill (6-5 Sophomore Guard, 11.6 ppg)

42 Tyrone Outlaw (6-6 Junior Forward, 6.0 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

4 Seth Allen (6-1 Senior Guard, 13.4 ppg)

32 Zach LeDay (6-7 Senior Forward, 16.3 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

LeDay scored 53 points and grabbed 24 rebounds in the Hokies’ two games in the 2017 ACC Tournament in Brooklyn last week, earning second team All-ACC Tournament honors for his play. He was the only player who did not play in the semifinals to make either the first or second teams.

LAST TIME OUT

WASHINGTON – After trading shot for shot against a Michigan team looking nothing like one playing its fourth game in four days, eighth-seed Michigan pulled away from second-seeded Wisconsin in the second half to claim the 2017 Big Ten tournament championship with a 71-56 victory at the Verizon Center.

Wisconsin (25-9) put three players in double figures but played the title match much like they played the Big Ten regular season – good early on, then fading at the end to second place. 

“We were good for the first two games,” senior Nigel Hayes said. “We played how we practice, how we were supposed to play. We played how we knew we could play. We played how we expected ourselves to play. The results showed. This game, we kind of took a detour from that, kind of played how we were doing in February.”

Hayes, Koenig and Happ were named to the all-tournament team and combined for 43 of Wisconsin’s points, although neither of the three could turn around the Wolverines’ momentous tidal wave.

Led by tournament MVP Derrick Walton’s 22 points, Michigan (24-11) won its fourth game in for days by shooting 56.3 percent and hitting 10 3-pointers, showing no signs of heavy legs or being impacted by its Wednesday evening flight skidding off the runaway after takeoff was aborted due to high winds. 

A Koenig 3-pointer ended a wild first half with the Badgers only down 33-32. Both teams shot over 53 percent from the field and hit at least 13 field goals, but Michigan rode a suffocating second-half defense that held the Badgers without a field goal for the first eight minutes that was the decisive moment in the game.

The Badgers were able to cut the lead to 51-45 following a three by senior forward Vitto Brown (five points) and a steal and layup by Zak Showalter (eight points) but could get no closer. Trailing by seven with 2:59 remaining, Michigan pulled away with a 6-0 run with three fast-break baskets to end the drama.

The Wolverines shot 11-for-16 from 2-point range, 3-for-10 from 3-point range and 7-for-9 on free throws down the stretch to outscore the Badgers, 38-24, in the second half. Wisconsin managed to shoot only 8-for-30 (26.7 percent) after Koenig’s halftime buzzer beater.

SERIES NOTES

Wisconsin is 42-42 all-time against current members of the ACC and has won 11 of its last 17 games against ACC foes. 

The Hokies are 36-51 all-time against schools currently in the Big Ten Conference, but Tech has won the last two meetings.

UW and VT have three common opponents from this season. The Badgers went 3-2 against Michigan, Nebraska and Syracuse. The Hokies went 3-0 against the same trio. 

The Badgers went 3-3 against VT coach Buzz Williams during his time at Marquette.

LAST MEETING

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Trevon Hughes hit a leaning floater in the lane with 0.9 seconds left and No. 22 Wisconsin survived a furious rally by Virginia Tech, winning 74-72 in the opener of the 10th Annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

The Badgers (6-1) led throughout until A.D. Vassallo's sixth 3-pointer capped a 14-5 run that pulled the Hokies (4-3) even with seven seconds to play. But with Cassell Coliseum erupting, Hughes hit an off-balance shot in the lane that silenced the crowd as it dropped.

Marcus Landry scored 18 points and Jon Leuer had 17 for the Badgers, who finished 12-for-18 from 3-point range. Hughes added 12 and Jason Bohannon 11, all in the second half.

Vassallo led the Hokies with 30 points, getting 24 in the second half, and Victor Davila had 13. Jeff Allen, the Hokies' leading scorer, fouled out after scoring just two points.

WISCONSIN NCAA TOURNAMENT NOTES

The Badgers are 36-21 (.632) all-time in the Big Dance, advancing to four Final Fours and winning the 1941 N.C.A.A. title. Wisconsin has gone 15-5 in the N.C.A.A. tournament over the last six seasons.

The Badgers earned a No. 8 seed in the East Region. UW has been seeded 8th or higher in 10 of the last 11 years. 

Wisconsin is 5-2 all-time as a No. 8 seed. The Badgers advanced all the way to the 2000 Final Four as a No. 8 seed, knocking off No. 9 Fresno State, No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 LSU and No. 6 Purdue. UW also went 1-1 as a No. 8 seed in 2002, beating No. 9 St. John's before falling to eventual national champion, No. 1 seeded Maryland. 

Since 2002, the Badgers have gone 13-2 in opening round N.C.A.A. tournament games. UW's only two first-round losses came as a No. 9 seed in 2006 and a No. 5 seed in 2013. 

The Badgers are 2-1 in the N.C.A.A. tournament under head coach Greg Gard. Last season, in Gard's first year, 7th-seeded UW defeated No. 10 Pitt and No. 2 Xavier to advance to the Sweet 16. The Badgers eventually fell to No. 6 Notre Dame. 

UW has won 10 of its last 11 N.C.A.A. tournament games played in the month of March. 

This marks the 10th time UW has been in the East Region, most recently advancing to the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia last season. The Badgers’ only national championship came out of the East Region in 1941.

Wisconsin has qualified for each of the last 19 consecutive N.C.A.A. tournaments, the fifth-longest streak in N.C.A.A. history and tied as the second-longest streak in Big Ten history. Only MSU’s active streak of 20 consecutive is longer.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Over the last four seasons, Wisconsin has posted a record of 23-7 (.767) during the month of March. That is the best winning percentage and most wins among Big Ten teams.

UW allowed just 59.7 ppg during the Big Ten tournament. The Badgers' first two opponents shot a combined 38.0 percent from the field (33.3 percent on 3FGs).

UW is 22-1 this season when leading or tied with 5:00 remaining. Under Gard, UW is 37-1 when leading or tied with 5:00 remaining.

Wisconsin ranks second in the Big Ten averaging 13.0 turnovers per game this season

VIRGINIA TECH NOTES 

Virginia Tech went 5-8 against nine teams in the 2017 N.C.A.A. Tournament field, the eight others from the ACC and Big Ten champion Michigan. Tech defeated both the ACC champion, Duke and the Big Ten champion, Michigan this year.

In the Hokies’ last eight victories, the Hokies won by more than three points just twice, in both Boston College games.

The Hokies averaged 75.8 points per game in ACC play this season, shattering the old mark of 72.2 points per game in the 2009-10 season.

This season, the Hokies are 505 of 690 from the free throw line, for 73.2 percent. Tech opponents have SHOT just 506 free throws this season. The Hokies are shooting 73.4 percent from the free throw line.

PREDICTION

Three years ago it was “Winning is Fun.” Two years ago it was “Make ‘em Believe.” Last year it was “In Gard WI Trust.” This year? How about “Time to Salvage.”

Wisconsin entered the season with high expectations inside and outside the program, so high that finishing second in the Big Ten conference regular season and tournament is viewed as a disappointment. The Badgers’ four seniors have been solid players but not great and the youth on the roster, while talented, hasn’t delivered with the consistency needed to make up for starter spottiness. Throw in the fact the Badgers have likely played only one complete game against a tournament team this year, the Badgers enter the N.C.A.A. tournament with many more questions than answers.

“I think the difference is just playing together, playing as one unit, and having fun doing it,” Koenig said on the differences between the wins and losses. “There's definitely a disparity in games that where we lose compared to the ones that we win. We're not sharing the ball, the ball is not popping around as much, we're not playing inside, outside, which has kind of been our strength and our staple all year, and allowing our defense to lead into our offense. That's the things that we do in order to be successful.”

Wisconsin’s defensive and low-post strengths will be tested. The Hokies are shooting 40.3 percent from beyond the arc this season and will be facing a Wisconsin squad that was second-to-last in the Big Ten in 3-point defense. The Badgers did allow the second-fewest attempts in conference play, so Gard chooses to view success in how Wisconsin defensively can run people off the line and challenge jump shooters.

Virginia Tech is undersized defensively, so the Hokies are vulnerable inside against bigger forwards like Happ and Hayes. However, Virginia Tech will try to overcome its lack of size by mixing zone combinations and utilizing traps to put pressure on the post.

“We have to adjust to what is available,” Gard said. “That's why we like multi-dimensional players that can play inside, outside, and do a variety of things, and try to be a real balanced team and not be one aspect of the game or scoring dependent. We always like to touch the post. That's been a constant, a mainstay in our program for a long time. And that may be post players, it may be via cuts, it may be via dribble attack. And Buzz (Williams)' term is "paint touches," and ours is very similar in terms of we want to get the ball to that high percentage area as much as we can.”

When Wisconsin plays well, the ball moves well. The Badgers had great ball movement Saturday with 13 assists on 27 field goals, a result of good spacing and converting in the paint. That wasn’t quite the case Sunday with only 10 assists in 22 field goals, inability to consistently convert inside and having too much solo play.

What UW team will show up tonight? The Badgers have won nine of their last 10 opening-round NCAA tournament games, holding teams to an average of 54.1 points in the initial game. Wisconsin is 14-3 in the Round of 64 since 2000. Because of that, I’ll give Wisconsin the benefit of the doubt that the Badgers can attack Virginia Tech, convert inside and do just enough to win by eight tonight.

Worgull's Record: 27-7

Points off Prediction: 333 (9.8 per game)


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