The Michigan Wolverines soundly thrashed the Wisconsin Badgers 71-56 in the Big10 title game at the Verizon Center in DC on Sunday afternoon. The Badgers got off to a credible start, trailing only 33-32 at halftime. But, an eight minute stretch without a field goal at the start of the second half sealed the Badgers’ fate. Meanwhile, Michigan pulled away with great outside shooting, solid defense, and some fast break points.
The Badgers (25-9, 12-6) hence will go to their 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament as a #8 seed, far lower than many had projected. However, given the Badgers weak schedule and their lackluster performance in the second half of the season, winning just four of their last ten games, the seed seems about right.
The Badgers will have to play much better than they did Sunday against Michigan to get past the tough Virginia Tech Hokies (20-10, 10-8) from the ACC in the round one East Regional game at Buffalo, NY on Thursday night at 9:40 PM. The Hokies are a solid group who can make the three-ball, and they shoot a better percentage from the field and the line than the Badgers. They are led by third-year coach Buzz Williams, who formerly coached the Badgers’ in-state arch-rival Marquette Golden Eagles. The winner likely gets the unenviable task of going up against #1 seed and defending champ Villanova on Saturday.
Why the Badgers could go deep:
Experience: Four of the Badger starters were members of the 2013 and 2014 teams that went to back to back Final Fours.
Inside play: When they are “on” Senior Forward Nigel Hayes and redshirt Sophomore Ethan Happ might be the most formidable “in the paint duo” in the country.
Bronson Koenig: When he is “feeling it” Senior Guard Koenig is a dangerous, clutch three-point shooter and a reliable playmaker.
Why they probably won’t go far:
Inconsistent offense: The long dry spell against Michigan unfortunately wasn’t unusual this season. It will be a killer against tournament teams.
Horrible free throw shooting: In the past, the Badgers have been among the nation’s leaders from the line. This year, however, they shot only 64%, leaving far too many points on the line. Happ, their best all-around player, is the worst of the bunch, shooting only 50% from the stripe. This actually makes him a liability down the stretch in close games.
Too many turnovers: In the past, Wisconsin was known for a disciplined offense and taking care of the ball. This year, however, they have thrown it away with regularity, including in some key situations that cost them games. Just can’t do that against good tournament teams.