East Region Preview: #7 Wisconsin vs. #10 Pittsburgh

The #7 seeded Badgers open tournament play against #10 seeded Pittsburgh on Friday night at 5:50 PM CT in St. Louis, MO. The game will be televised on TNT, and SST’s Zach Rosen is in St. Louis for the weekend reporting on our behalf.

The game is going to be slow and physical, as both teams play that style. Pittsburgh finished the season 21-11, and had their ACC Tournament run ended by North Carolina. Wisconsin (20-12) is coming off of a rough performance against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, where they got upset 70-58.

Projected Starters

Wisconsin Projected Starters

G: Bronson Koenig (13.4 PPG, 2.5 APG)
G: Zak Showalter (7.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
F: Nigel Hayes (16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.0 APG)
F: Vitto Brown (9.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG)
F: Ethan Happ (12.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG)

Pittsburgh Projected Starters

G: James Robinson (10.3 PPG, 5.1 APG)
G: Cameron Johnson (4.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
F: Jamel Artis (14.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.1 APG)
F: Rafeal Maia (2.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
F: Michael Young (16.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG)

The Panthers and the Badgers are very similar teams, playing with slow pace and undersized frontcourts. Both teams are better scoring from the paint rather than from the three-point arc.

For Wisconsin, they should be looking to get it down to Ethan Happ early and often, due to Pittsburgh’s lack of strong interior defense. Pittsburgh has been susceptible to giving up big nights to skilled post players throughout the season. Nigel Hayes should also look to post up more than shooting from the outside. If Happ and Hayes can dominate in the paint, it should open things up on the outside for Bronson Koenig and Vitto Brown. The inside-out game could really develop for Wisconsin, helping to stretch Pittsburgh’s tough defense more.

For Pittsburgh, Michael Young will get a lot of looks on the inside, too. Young is the Panthers’ leading scorer at 16 points per game while shooting 53.9% from the field. His sidekick, Jamel Artis, is averaging 14.4 points per game, while shooting almost 36% from the 3-point line with 129 attempts. The Badgers will look to contain these two, as Pitt’s scoring drops off after those two guys. Young will likely match up with Hayes on defense, which Hayes believes will present a similar game inside and out.

“We know those guys contribute and carry most of the load for them,” Hayes said Thursday during media availability of Young and Artis. “We know they’re both great players. They present tough matchups for us. But it’s something that I think that’s why it’s a team game, team defense, and we’ll do our best to try and make them take shots that are lower percentage or not as comfortable for them and we’ll play to the percentages.”

Senior point guard James Robinson also averages 10.3 points and 5.1 assists per game for Pitt. The Badgers will need to play strong on ball defense, not allowing Robinson to create for others, as the Panthers really struggle from the outside. Pittsburgh will be looking to score through their passing throughout, which head coach Jamie Dixon talked about on Thursday.

“We want to be a little bit more active with movement,” Dixon said. “But also with the movement of the basketball. It was something we’ve emphasized the last five days. And I think we’ve got a better feeling of it. And it was great to have these five days to prepare with the one day where we really just did some shooting on their own.”

Pittsburgh is ready for Wisconsin’s solid play on both sides of the ball, but it’s all about execution on both ends. As Robinson explained on Thursday, being prepared will only take Pitt so far.

“We can’t have any mental lapses on defense, because they’re going to pretty much just be looking for us to break down and capitalize off our mistakes,” Robinson said. “So mentally we have to be locked in for 40 minutes.”

Wisconsin will look to somehow maneuver to the program’s third straight Final Four. Head coach Greg Gard knows that journey will not be easy.

“The mindset was always one game at a time and obviously our goal was to get to the Final Four and be able to win the whole thing,” Gard said. “This group has the same approach. They’ll take it one game at a time, understanding that we’ll have to play very well in order to advance. But we had to play very well last year in order to advance.”

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