#8 Wisconsin Badgers vs #9 Virginia Tech Hokies
Player to Watch: Bronson Koenig (14.1 ppg, 41.6 percent FG, 38.7 percent 3FG, 89.8 percent FT, 2 assists per game, 2.1 rpg)
The senior point guard has had his ups and downs this season, but Koenig historically has been a March player. Koenig is one of the best free throw shooters on the Badgers’ team, and as games come down to the end of the wire, free throws can be make it or break it in March. Koenig plays with a sense of urgency and always seems to come in clutch at the most opportune times (as in last March, when Koenig made a buzzer beater three to win against Xavier and bring the Badgers to its third straight Sweet 16).
The Badgers struggled in the last few weeks of the regular season to pull it together. What started as a promising season turned in to something the players had to salvage. While the Badgers may be shaken by the lower-than-expected seeding, they can work on not letting tough defenses shake their entire core. When defenses pressure the Badgers, they seem to unfold and forget the basics of playing basketball. The Badgers will face aggressive defensive teams, so Wisconsin must remain calm and confident. The Badgers have a 35.5 percent 3FG statistic, and the team should work on making those shots in case defenses pressure Ethan Happ too much.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Player to Watch: Seth Allen (13.4 ppg, 54.2 percent FG, 45.1 percent 3FG, 72.9 percent FT, 3.3 assists per game, 2.4 rpg)
A transfer from Maryland, Allen is Virginia Tech’s redshirt senior guard. He is an accurate shooter on all fronts, which can shake Wisconsin’s defense sometimes. Allen plays a very similar style to Koenig, where he likes to attack the rim but makes clutch three-pointers. Unfortunately, he transferred to Virginia Tech before Maryland was part of the Big Ten (where he could have had experience facing the Badgers), but his similar style to Koenig will likely help Wisconsin set up a defensive strategy.
The X Factor:
Virginia Tech needs to work on their offense. Virginia Tech commits more turnovers than their opponents. Opponents stole the ball 175 times, compared to Virginia Tech’s defense stealing the ball 128 times. The Hokies are also out-rebounded by opponents. For the Hokies to win the game, they must focus on offensive fundamentals to prevent Wisconsin from scoring on turnovers, who averages 14.6 points off turnovers.
Match-Up to Watch
The fanatical forwards: Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes against Virginia Tech’s Zach LeDay. Hayes averages 13.5 ppg at 45.0 percent FG, while bringing in 6.5 rpg. LeDay is Virginia Tech’s leading scorer with 16.3 ppg at 53.0 percent. He brings in 7.4 rebounds. Hayes is a more accurate three-point shooter with 31.3 percent 3FG, opposed to LeDay’s 27.5 percent 3FG. LeDay and Hayes are both seniors, which means they bring a lot of expertise about March to their squads.
Both teams kicked off their seasons to a strong start, with the Hokies going 12-1 in their first 13 games while Wisconsin was heading to a 11-2 start on their season. But, both teams fell towards the end of the season. Virginia Tech had a very inconsistent final half to their season, similar to Wisconsin’s flop in the final month of Big Ten play. The difference fact0r: Virginia Tech faced nine top-25 teams while Wisconsin only played five top-25 teams (over the course of the entire season). Virginia Tech beat Duke (who is now a 2-seed in the tournament) in late December. Virginia Tech may have more experience facing these top teams, which could help them going through March.
Prediction: Wisconsin 68, Virginia Tech 64
The two teams are very similar, but Virginia Tech plays sloppier basketball on offense than their opponents, and Wisconsin could capitalize on this. Virginia Tech’s opponents out-rebound the Hokies and force more turnovers. Wisconsin’s average ppg is 71.9, and their opponents’ average is 61.4 ppg. Wisconsin out-rebounds their opponents by 6.3. Both teams have been struggling recently, so this is anyone’s game. However, Virginia Tech’s sloppy offense will help give Wisconsin the win.