After a nervous 20 minutes, leading only 30-29 at halftime, Villanova was able to kick things into gear and beat No.16-seed Mount St. Mary’s 76-56 to kick off the Wildcats’ title defense. The Mountaineers actually led for 18 minutes, 36 seconds in the game, but Villanova’ scoring balance and defense proved to be too much for Mount St. Mary’s to register the upset.
Wisconsin will attempt to create madness by knocking out the top overall seed Saturday afternoon inside the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y. In order for Wisconsin to shred people’s brackets, the combination of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes will need to carry over their performance against Virginia Tech. The seniors put together two of their best games this season and made the winning plays that Wisconsin needed.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten) as it strives to win its second-round match-up against Villanova (32-3, 15-3 Big East).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN CREATE EXTRA OFFENSIVE POSSESSIONS?
Wisconsin has been able to find ways of creating extra offensive possessions for itself all year, averaging 12.9 turnovers through its 35 games. The 10 turnovers UW forced on Virginia Tech Thursday night marked the eighth time over the last 10 games the Badgers created double-digit turnovers.
In order for Wisconsin to keep pace with Villanova, the Badgers need to find a way of creating extra offensive possessions. In the Wildcats’ first-round win, the Mountaineers were able to force 13 turnovers they turned into 10 points. The 13 turnovers by Villanova was above its season average of 11.3 per game.
It will be a challenge for Wisconsin to disrupt the offensive rhythm for Villanova, a veteran squad that typically doesn’t beat itself. Jalen Brunson leads the Wildcats with a paltry 2.1 turnovers a game, only committing two Thursday and an average of just 1.8 over the last five games. Zak Showalter will likely draw the defensive match-up, and the UW senior will look to rebound after fouling out in the win over Virginia Tech.
Showalter can’t afford to get into foul trouble for a second consecutive game, and he’ll have to be smart on how he defends Brunson. Showalter has created 53 steals this season and at least one swipe in seven straight games, including at least two in six of those games.
Averaging 14.6 points off turnovers this season, Wisconsin was able to turn the Hokies’ 10 turnovers into nine points to win the opener. If Wisconsin can meet its season average, it should help the Badgers keep pace with Villanova and potentially prevent them from building a lead.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: DISRUPT VILLANOVA’S BALANCE ON OFFENSE
Villanova put five players in double figures against the Mountaineers, including a game-high 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting by freshman guard Donte Divincenzo off the bench. The five players in double figures isn’t surprising considering Villanova has four players average double figures. Josh Hart leads the way with 18.7 points per game and is shooting 50.9 percent from the field. Brunson is second with 14.8 points per game, Kris Jenkins third with 13.3 points per game and Mikal Bridges averages 10 points per game.
Having an answer for all those players will be difficult. The Wildcats consistently work the ball around on offense and average 14.3 assists on 26.9 made field goals per game. Villanova is unselfish with the way its plays, meaning Wisconsin will need to work through screens and communicate effectively to prevent them from getting open looks. The Wildcats are a talented offensive team and are versatile enough to beat teams in a variety of ways.
Senior Nigel Hayes will draw the defensive assignment of Hart, a tremendous challenge for Hayes to be able to contain a player who has scored in double figures in every game this season. Although Hart has been a consistent scoring threat, he has had his offensive struggles at times against good defensive teams. Against Virginia’s defense, Hart shot a season-low 22.2 percent on nine shot attempts.
Hayes will need to make him pick up his dribble to prevent penetration to the rim (an area UW struggled mightily in against the Hokies) or gaining separation for jump shots, as Hart shoots 40.7 percent from three. Hayes also needs to be aware of Hart’s ability to find the open teammate, as he’s second to Brunson (4.2 assists a game) in assists with about three a game.
In order for to have success defensively, the Badgers are going to need to keep Brunson and Hart in front of them to prevent them from setting their teammates up for success on offense.
3-POINTER: CAN KOENIG CARRY OVER HIS PERFORMANCE?
Koenig certainly put on an impressive display from the perimeter by hitting a single-game school record eight 3-pointers on 17 attempts. The eight made threes by Koenig bumps his streak to nine straight games of at least one made three and his sixth straight game of making at least two.
With how successful Koenig was from 3-point range on Thursday, it is fair to wonder if the senior can carry over that performance and how much extra attention the Wildcats will pay to him throughout the course of the game. While it’ll be difficult to replicate that success, Koenig has to be proficient from the perimeter to spread out Villanova’s defense.
Koenig was able to create the separation he needed in order to have success from the perimeter against Virginia Tech, but he also hit a couple of difficult ones, too. Villanova will be better equipped of defending the three and will make sure to limit the space Koenig has to catch and shoot. Villanova has held its opponents to 31.1 percent from three on an average of seven made threes a game.
In order for Koenig to have a chance of carrying over his offensive performance, he’ll need help from Hayes and Ethan Happ on the interior. Happ registered his fourth straight game in double figures but had to work to get to his 10 points. Happ will need to be aggressive in the post, hunt for his shot in order to create opportunities on the perimeter and stay out of foul trouble.
On paper it appears Happ will be able to get off some clean looks, as the Wildcats only average 3.1 blocks a game this season. If Happ can’t get one of his shots to fall around the basket, he has to be able to stay with his shot to allow Wisconsin’s offense to reset. The Wildcats do well of limiting opponents to one shot per offensive possession and give up an average of only 9.4 offensive rebounds a game.
Happ has been strong all year in generating second chances for Wisconsin, leading the team with 112 offensive rebounds, but has bumped his average from 3.2 per game up to 4.2 over last five games. If Happ can keep up that activeness, he’ll play an important role of giving Wisconsin the second chances they need to create the balance on offense.