As you may have heard, the Hokies are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. They face off against the No. 8 seed Wisconsin Badgers on Thursday night in Buffalo. We got a bit of intel from the Badgers’ perspective on the season and matchup from Drew Hamm of Bucky’s 5th Quarter. Here is our Q&A:
Gobbler Country: Can you give us a recap of Wisconsin’s season, as the Hokies and Badgers are in separate conferences?
Drew Hamm: Well, how much time do you have? Because I could discuss this Wisconsin basketball season for days and days and days, but I don't want to bore your readers with the ramblings of a madman. Instead, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version of the season. The Badgers started off the year well, only losing to Creighton on the road and UNC in Maui while beating a handful of decent teams like Marquette, Syracuse and uhhhh, well they beat Marquette and Syracuse. Conference play started and the Badgers beat Indiana (who was considered good at the time) but lost at Purdue and then won eight games in a row to sit at 21-3! Sounds great, right? Well, there were some questionable performances mixed in with all those wins and some cracks in the foundation of the team. It took overtime for the Badgers to beat Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska and while "a win is a win" you don't go to Sweet 16s while being taken to OT by Rutgers. The Badgers ended the season losing five of seven and couldn't make a free throw if their dog's lives depended on it. A nice performance in the B1G Tournament (beating Indiana and steam-rolling Northwestern before running into the hottest team in the midwest, Michigan, in the finals) gave fans some hope, but in reality no one has any idea which team will show up for the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament.
GC: Wisconsin is one of the better rebounding teams in the country, ranking 21st in TRB% and 22nd in OREB%. Why is that, and should we expect them to dominate the boards on Thursday?
DH: The Badgers pride themselves, and have for many years, on getting more rebounds than their opponents. This year is no different and the Badgers have been excellent at grabbing offensive rebounds, with all-conference performer Ethan Happ leading the way, and stopping opponents from getting offensive rebounds. One of the main reasons for this is Happ and his front-court mates, Nigel Hayes and the much-maligned Vitto Brown, are well above average at rebounding, but one of the hidden reasons is that the guards are good at rebounding too. Zak Showalter crashes the boards with reckless abandon and Khalil Iverson off the bench is a ferocious rebounder. With the Hokies usually trotting out an undersized lineup, the Badgers should fully dominate on the boards in this game.
GC: The Hokies have been lights out shooting the ball from the perimeter, hitting on 41.4% of their three-point attempts during conference play, and have 4 players shooting over 38% from downtown. What does Wisconsin need to do to counter the Hokies’ greatest strength?
DH: In years past, the Badgers have been so good at perimeter defense because they simply didn't allow other teams to even attempt many threes! In the past four years, including this one, the Badgers ranked 6th, 6th, 14th, and 74th in 3PA/FGA in the country. I'll let you guess which number there corresponds to the 2017 season. This is important to note because opponent's three-point shooting percentage over those same seasons were 34.1, 37.5, 37.4, and 37.7. The last three seasons the Badgers have been worse than over 300 other teams in the country in three-point shooting percentage. This wasn't a problem when the other team wasn't shooting many threes but this year teams are shooting more AND making more threes. The Badgers will need to be extremely cognizant of where Seth Allen and Justin Bibbs are at all times or else they could find themselves quickly down nine to twelve points. Showalter is the best perimeter defender on the Badgers and will most likely mark Allen while Iverson (who missed the B1G title game for personal reasons and may not be back by Thursday) could be tasked with following Bibbs. To be perfectly honest, I don't think the Badgers are going to be able to stop both players, let alone the rest of the Hokies gunners, and need to focus on preventing three-point attempts.
GC: The Badgers have been talked about as one of the under-seeded teams in the tournament. Were they or were they not correctly placed by the committee?
DH: The Badgers are a nationally ranked team, finished second in the B1G during the regular season and in the conference tournament, and have one of the best post players in the country in their lineup. They are definitely under-seeded but probably not by as much as you might think. The B1G was bad this year and the Badgers were not immune to that (correct) national perception. They weren't noted when the "top-16" teams were released early in the season despite being ranked in the top-16 at the time and they certainly did nothing after that to engender confidence in their ability to go far in the tournament. I think most Badgers fans qualms with the seeding is how many rows higher teams like Minnesota and Maryland are.
GC: Wisconsin started the season at No. 7 in the AP Poll, but finishes the year at No. 25. What were the major problems that caused that fall?
DH: Three-point defense, free throw shooting, some minor injuries (most notably to starting point guard Bronson Koenig), and what can only be described as a teamwide malaise in February.
GC: What is your prediction for the game?
DH: While the Hokies have a clutch player of their own, Koenig fills that role for the Badgers, and I think that he hits a couple of big shots late to give the Badgers the 68-60 win.
Thanks for joining us, Drew. If you missed it, I answered some questions from the Hokies’ perspective on the Wisconsin site. You can find that post here.