Badgers Breakdown: No.8 Wisconsin vs. No.4 Florida

After being 'sweet' for the fourth year in a row, Wisconsin looks to be 'elite' for the third time in four years when it takes on fourth-seed Florida tonight in New York City. We break down the match-up.

No.8 Wisconsin (27-9, 12-6 Big Ten) vs. No.4 Florida (26-8, 14-4 SEC)

Date/Time – Friday, March 24, approximately 8:59 p.m. Central

Arena – New York City’s Madison Square Garden (19,812) 

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

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

Series – Series Tied leads 2-2 (First Meeting on neutral courts)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 59-53, on November 12, 2013, in Madison

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.1 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.8 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 13.8 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.5 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 6.8 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 5.8 ppg)

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

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 3.9 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH 

Wisconsin's career 3-point king with 267 triples, Koenig is at his best when the game is on the line. Over the last two seasons, he has gone 36-for-71 (.507) from 3-point range in the final five minutes and overtime.

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

0 Kasey Hill (6-1 Senior Guard, 9.1 ppg)

1 Devin Robinson (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.0 ppg)

5 Kevaughn Allen (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 11.6 ppg)

13 Kevarrius Hayes (6-9 Sophomore Center, 11.5 ppg)

23 Justin Leon (6-8 Senior Forward, 5.3 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

11 Chris Chiozza (6-0 Junior Guard, 7.1 ppg)

24 Canyon Barry (6-6 Senior Guard, 11.8 ppg)

25 Keith Stone (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.6 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

In wins over East Tennessee State and Virginia, Robinson averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field.

LAST TIME OUT

Trailing by seven with 5:16 remaining, eighth-seeded Wisconsin outscored the nation’s No.1 team 15-5 down the stretch – including a driving reverse lay-up by Hayes with 11.4 seconds left – that lifted the Badgers to a 65-62 victory over No.1 Villanova in the N.C.A.A. tournament second round at the KeyBank Center IN Buffalo, N.Y., Saturday.

Tying a conference record with most consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, Wisconsin (27-9) – which got 17 points from Bronson Koenig, 12 points and eight rebounds from Ethan Happ and 10 points from Vitto Brown.

“Just an unbelievable, gutty performance against a terrific team,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.

Seventeen years to the day an eighth-seeded Wisconsin knocked off another top-seeded Wildcats program (Arizona) on an improbable Final Four run, the Badgers had history repeat itself thanks to many critical moments, including Hayes’ moxie.

With the game tied at 62 after a missed free throw, Gard drew up a simple side isolation play for Hayes, who delivered a head fake on forward Mikal Bridges, drove baseline and scooped the reserve lay-up threw the net with 10.4 seconds remaining.

To complete the upset, however, UW relied on its defensive calling card.

Looking to force overtime, Villanova senior Josh Hart – a player-of-the-year candidate who led the Wildcats (32-4) with 19 points – drove hard down the left lane line. Having switched on to Hart from Hayes, Happ was expecting Hart to spin back to the center of the lane, only to have him stay on track.

That exposed opening allowed Brown – who went a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the first half – to swoop in, rip the ball out of Hart’s hands and hang on to it. Fouled with 3.4 seconds left, Brown made the first, endured Nova’s last time out, missed the second and watched as the final heave came nowhere close.

On the Badgers’ 15-5 closing kick, Brown, Hayes and Koenig scoring 13 of the points.

Koenig went to work just after the Wildcats’ lead grew to seven and went to work. Following a layup by Hayes, Koenig hit a jumper – his first points of the second half – and a 3-pointer from the corner tied the game at 57 with 3:27 remaining 

Happ’s driving layup on the next possession put the Badgers back in front 59-58, and Koenig hit another 3-pointer - his third of the game – to put the Badgers up 62-59 after Hayes collected a pair of offensive rebounds.

In between those Wisconsin scores was a block by Happ on guard Donte DiVincenzo (15 points), a block by Hayes on Hart and aggressive defense that allowed no made field goals. UW held Villanova to 22 points in the paint, outscoring then by 10.

Villanova wouldn’t go quietly. Jalen Brunson (11 points) spin move on Zak Showalter in the paint gave him space to hit a left-handed lay-up cut the deficit to 62-61 with 1:39 remaining. Following a pair of empty possessions, Villanova’s trap on Koenig just past midcourt led to a turnover and free throw opportunities for DiVincenzo. The 70.9 percent free throw shooter went 1-for-2, tying the game with 36.4 seconds remaining.

That set the stage for some more March Wisconsin magic.

SERIES NOTES

The Gators are in the "Sweet 16" for the 11th time in school history, but the sixth time since 2006 and first time under Coach Mike White, now in his second season. The Badgers are in their 10th Sweet 16, with all of them since 2000, including a fourth straight

In the most recent meeting, Hayes played 18 minutes and scored eight points (4-7 FGs) and grabbed two rebounds. 

The Badgers are 27-18 all-time against the SEC, including 3-4 in the N.C.A.A. tournament. 

The Badgers are making their second trip to Madison Square Garden of the season and their third trip in the last 14 months. UW is 2-1 in those games.

Florida also played in MSG earlier this season, losing 84-74 to Duke Dec.6.

Florida is 4-3 all-time against the Big Ten in N.C.A.A. play, including the win over Ohio State in the '07 national championship game. 

LAST MEETING

MADISON - Opening against an AP top 11 opponent for only the third time in school history, and first since 1969, Wisconsin had barely had time to solve its rotations, get a few of the six new freshman acclimated to the college game and fit together all the missing pieces needed to replace five graduated seniors.

So the fact that No.20 Wisconsin started the game down 16-4, yet turned it around by halftime and led the entire second half in a 59-53 victory over No.11 Florida speaks volumes that this latest edition of Bo Ryan’s Badgers might be slightly ahead of the learning curve. 

“Somebody told me that they kind of threw us in the deep end to start the year,” said sophomore Sam Dekker, referring also to Wisconsin’s season-opener victory in Sioux Falls, S.D., against St. John’s. “I don’t really look at it that way. We’re a good team playing against good teams. We’ll learn a lot from these games … It’s nice to get two big wins under our belt.”

Dekker – arguably the biggest piece of all this season – scored a team-high 16 points as Wisconsin (2-0) beat consecutive power six nonconference opponents for the first time since 2009, and became one of only three teams in the country to beat two power six teams to start the year.

But the performances surrounding Dekker were the key cornerstones. Traevon Jackson turned the ball over five times, but scored 13 points – including the game-clinching jumper with 9.8 seconds left – to add to his seven rebounds and team-high four assists. 

“He's been in so many tough situations that I wasn't trading him those last five minutes,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.

Ben Brust was one rebound away from a double-double (11 points, 9 rebounds); Frank Kaminsky scored eight points and registered a team-high in steals and blocks (two apiece) and freshman Nigel Hayes provided some quality minutes in relief of Kaminsky, looking fluid and confident with his eight points in 18 minutes.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Seniors Hayes and Koenig rank first and second among all active players in N.C.A.A. tournament points scored. Hayes has scored 166 and Koenig 159.

Following Saturday’s win over Villanova, the Badgers have now posted five wins over No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the last four N.C.A.A. tournaments. Wisconsin owns a total of 4 wins over No. 1 seeds since 2000, the most of any team.

The Badgers typically don't beat themselves. UW ranks 11th in the NCAA in scoring defense (61.8 ppg), 23rd in fewest fouls per game and 26th in fewest turnovers per game.

Over the last four seasons, Wisconsin has posted a record of 25-7 (.781) during the month of March. That is the best winning percentage and most wins among Big Ten teams.

FLORIDA NOTES

Florida is 8-1 all-time in regional semifinal play. That loss happened when 10th-seeded Gonzaga tipped in an offensive rebound with four seconds left to earn a 73-72 victory over the Gators in 1999. Since then, UF has won seven straight Sweet 16 games (2000, '06, '07, '11, '12, '13 and '14). 

Mike White has won 47 games in his first two seasons, which are the most in Southeastern Conference history for a coach at a school other than Kentucky. The UK coaches White trails are John Calipari (64), Tubby Smith (63) and Eddie Sutton (50).

Florida shot 47.1 percent from the floor and 34.9 from deep in the first two rounds, despite their two leading scorers, guard KeVaughn Allen and backup forward Canyon Barry (11.8 ppg), going a combined 5-for-29 from the floor and 2-for-17 from deep.

Allen averaged 5.5 points on 3-of-21 shooting in the first weekend of the tournament.

PREDICTION

It’s easy to see that Wisconsin doesn’t have the athleticism and speed that Florida is going to bring to the table tonight, but the Badgers can offset that with their skill, smarts and disciplined. The story of the game is which team will be able to play their pace, as Florida wants to go up tempo and Wisconsin wants to grind things in the half court. How different are they? Florida is No. 53 nationally in average possession length on offense. Wisconsin is No. 343 of 351 teams.

No team was more dominant in the opening weekend than Florida, as its combined victory margin of 41 points the largest of the teams not on the one-seed line. Part of that is making shots but a big reason for that is Florida’s defense – ranked third in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency – locked down offenses and created transition opportunities off turnovers for the Gators’ guards.

“Obviously the only teams that are left right now are ones that are really good,” head coach Greg Gard said. “I think (Florida Coach Mike White has) done a really good job of maximizing what they're good at and what his individuals are really good at. He's put them in position as any good coach would do to have success and try to maximize their abilities, which they have definitely taken advantage of the position he's put them in.”

The challenge for Wisconsin isn’t as major as it could have been had center John Egbunu not been lost for the season in mid-February due to a knee injury. The Gators have still made due, but will be facing a tandem of Happ and Hayes who combined for 31 points, shot 59 percent and had 16 rebounds in Wisconsin's 65-62 win over Villanova last Saturday.

Kevarrius Hayes' game plan on Happ is to keep him off the block and make him go over instead of around him, the latter Happ is capable of doing because of his ball-handling ability. Nigel Hayes is the same way, evident by his head fake and base-line drive that resulted in the game-winning reserve layup against Villanova.

White said Florida’s biggest issue is how to defend the interior against players who can “pass, shoot, drive it (and) draw fouls),” but also because double teams in the post open up open shooters on the perimeter. 

“That's a pretty big challenge, especially with those two high-level players,” Leon said, referring to Happ and Hayes. “Without Egbunu, I think we have done our fair share of the job, because we got here without him. I think we showed that we can play interior defense without him.”

It’s critical that Wisconsin – Happ especially – stays out of foul trouble. UW’s All-American sophomore has barely played in the first half of the Badgers’ two tournament wins this season. Koenig missed a long second-half stretch of the win over Villanova picking up quick fouls and played only nine minutes after halftime. Showalter fouled out of the Virginia Tech win with 5:38 remaining. The Badgers have been a disciplined squad but have been whistled for 41 fouls in two games.

Avoiding the whistles make this is a winnable game for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s defense is just as good as Florida’s – ranked No.7 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency – and have held 18 of their 36 opponents to 60 or fewer points this season, equaling a paltry 61.8 points per game.

If Wisconsin plays its tempo, limits the turnovers and UF’s offensive rebounds, the Badgers are once again elite and win by seven.

Worgull's Record: 28-8

Points off Prediction: 351 (9.8 per game)


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