It’s a familiar place and a familiar venue this weekend for the University of Wisconsin.
Having advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year, the Badgers will play their fourth game inside Madison Square Garden in the last three years, including their second in less than two months. With Wisconsin posting a 2-1 record inside the famed arena over that stretch, the Badgers will look for their third Elite Eight appearance in four seasons when they face fourth-seed Florida late tonight.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (27-9) as it strives to advance over Florida (26-8).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN PREVENT SECOND CHANCES?
One area where Villanova had success against Wisconsin was generating second chances, as the Wildcats converted 11 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points. Look at the numbers a little closer and you’ll see that eight of their offensive rebounds and 10 of those second-chance points came in the first half. That is partially due to the fact that Ethan Happ only played six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. It’s vital that Happ avoids foul trouble in order to make sure Florida can’t generate the same kind of second chances Villanova did in the first half.
Florida has averaged 8.8 offensive rebounds over the last five games and turned those into an average of 10 second-chance points per game. Wisconsin’s defense has to be able to limit a Gators offense that averages 77.9 points per game, shoot 45.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three.
If Happ can stay on the floor and get the better positioning, he’ll have a great chance to limit either Kevarrius Hayes (62 offensive rebounds) or Devin Robinson (60 offensive rebounds). In all likelihood Happ will be responsible to keep Hayes off the offensive glass and make sure Florida possessions are limited to one shot. Happ has registered at least five defensive rebounds in seven of the last 10 games. In two tournament games, Happ has 11 defensive rebounds.
Limiting teams to 8.4 offensive rebounds per game, Wisconsin will need to be wary of Kevaughn Allen (13.4 points per game), Canyon Barry (11.8 ppg) and Robinson (11.4 ppg), making sure prolonged possessions don’t allow them to get into their game offensively.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: AVOIDING SCORING DROUGHTS
Holding Virginia to 39 points is impressive, as the Gators held them to 4-for-26 from the field over the last 10 minutes, 30 seconds in first half and the first 10 minutes to begin second half, including no field goals the first 6:30 of the second half. The combination of Virginia’s poor shooting and Florida’s strong defense gave the Gators complete control of the game.
The Badgers shot the ball well in western New York, hitting 47.7 percent (52-for-109) over their first two tournament games. Wisconsin finished the game against Villanova shooting 53.1 percent from the field, the first time Wisconsin shot above 50 percent since the overtime win at Minnesota Jan.21, and generated a strong offensive balance to hit over 50 percent in each half. That hasn’t always been the case for Wisconsin, considering prolonged scoring droughts were common over the month of February.
The play of Bronson Koenig (22.5 points per game), Nigel Hayes (17.5 ppg) and Happ (11 ppg) have helped the Badgers play most of their games with a lead. Florida has been able to hold teams without a field goal thanks to its aggressive, efficient defense that helps them generate 7.6 steals per game. Florida has 18 steals in its two tournament wins, making it important Wisconsin protects the basketball.
If Wisconsin allows Florida to dictate tempo by creating turnovers and getting out in transition, the Badgers will have a difficult time establishing the same kind of offensive rhythm they have begun the tournament with. UW committed eight turnovers against Virginia Tech but coughed the ball up eight times alone in the first half against Villanova (14 total).
With Florida forcing about 15 turnovers a game this season, Koenig and D'Mitrik Trice (five combined turnovers against Villanova) need to be stingy with the ball and limit the mistakes that can turn into easy transition points for the Gators.
3-POINTER: CAN WISCONSIN HAVE SUCCESS IN THE PAINT?
Florida’s defense has made life tough on opposing offenses by giving up only 65.7 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting and 30.4 percent from 3-point range. That attack was on full display when Virginia shot just 29.6 percent, including 1-for-15 from beyond the arc.
The Gators’ defense begins with the play of their frontcourt, which is averaging 4.7 blocks per game and held its last five opponents to an average of 27.6 points in the paint. Wisconsin registered 32 points in the paint against Villanova, the most it’s scored in the last seven games.
Finding gaps in the Gators’ post defense to open up the rest of the Badgers’ offense begins with Hayes and Nigel Happ. Hayes has put together strong back-to-back tournament games by finding success from the mid-range and in. His ability to play around the rim has resulted in him shooting at least 40 percent from the field and averaged at least eight free throw attempts over two tournament games. He has also been active on the offensive glass, leading the team with six offensive boards against the Hokies and five against the Wildcats.
Nigel Hayes’ ability to attack the offensive glass has served as a nice complement to Happ, who leads the team with 114 offensive rebounds. Having two strong offensive rebounders on the court has helped Wisconsin keep possessions alive and led to an average of 15.5 second chance points over the last two games. That effort will need to continue considering Florida’s last five opponents have managed only 8.4 second-chance points. If UW wants to control the pace, the success of Hayes and Happ in the paint is paramount.