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The framework for a Wisconsin victory over Xavier

Looking to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time in six years, Wisconsin (21-12) will play a mighty Xavier (28-5) team on Sunday night at approximately 7:40 PM CT here in St. Louis.

The Muskateers have only lost five games all season, with six players averaging 9.5 points per game or more. Xavier’s depth starts in the backcourt with Trevon Bluiett (15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds), Myles Davis (10.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists), Edward Sumner (11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists), J.P. Macura (9.5 points), and former Indiana standout Remy Abell. Throw in two dominant 6’10” forwards in James Farr (11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds) and Jalen Reynolds (9.5 points, 6.4 rebounds), Wisconsin will have its hands full on the perimeter and down low.

Wisconsin started the day Saturday watching Xavier film, but assistant coach Lamont Paris has been scouting the Muskateers since Selection Sunday.

“They’re a really talented team obviously,” Paris said. “Their length and overall size is formidable, and they can score in a lot of different ways. They can play in a half court; they can play in a full court. They can throw the ball inside; they can score from the perimeter. They mix it up and play some 1-3-1 zone, a non-traditional 1-3-1 zone. They’re a good team. They’re not here by mistake.”

Only having one and a half days to prepare for Xavier’s different defensive looks is not ideal for the Badgers, especially considering that the occasional 1-3-1 zone may smell trouble. Since Wisconsin does not have a lot of ball-handlers, the Badgers are going to have to take care of the ball and make clean skip passes against the zone. The Badgers’ main ball-handler, Bronson Koenig, will have to be ready to play against the zone, which he was aware of even after his first film study.

“Seton Hall did some really good things against their zone,” Koenig said. “So we’re going to just try to control the tempo a little bit.”

“They have their biggest guy normally is at the bottom of it,” Paris added about the zone. “That’s atypical for most 1-3-1’s to have a guard down there sprinting from corner to corner. They have a bigger guy down there, and it works for them. I think maybe it helps them rebound better to have both of their big guys somewhere near the floor and close to the basket.”

Despite having less preparation for Xavier, Friday’s game against Pittsburgh will have the Badgers more prepared than many may realize. The physical nature of that game will be very similar to Sunday’s matchup with one of the nation’s toughest teams.

“I think they’ll probably be very similar that way,” Paris explained of the game’s expected physicality. “Just as far as making a cut, and the difficulty in making a cut in one side of the floor to the other. Posting up, or backing a guy down in the post; getting a rebound. All those things will be difficult; they’ll be challenged by how physically they play. Maybe lucky for us that we had Pitt in the first round and we got a taste of that…We like to think we don’t back down from those situations, also.”

Out of Xavier’s five losses this season, two came against Seton Hall in the last three weeks, the first in conference play and the second in the Big East Conference Championship.

Xavier got off to slow starts in those games, in which they could not recover. The Pirates were able to get to the free throw line often (27 and 35 times) and held Xavier to very poor two-point shooting (20-50 and 21-53). Despite all this, Xavier still collected 20 and 28 offensive rebounds in those games, but could not win due to poor shooting and defense. Xavier only shot 39% and 35% in those games, while Seton Hall shot over 50% in both games, assisting on 59% and 62% of their 29 field goals. In the last game specifically, Xavier had those 28 offensive rebounds and took 83 shots and 27 free throws, but only scored 83 points.

So what will the Badgers have to do to come away with a win Sunday night?

It starts with rebounding and limiting second-chance points, which includes denying the post and boxing out at all costs.

“They’re going to box out,” Paris said. “Some teams don’t box out as well. They box out, and it’s a physical box out. Unless you’re really determined in getting to the rim, you’re not going to get a lot of offensive rebounds. You just have to be determined to fight through that second or third wave of resistance and continue to play.”

Next, Wisconsin will need to get to the free throw line and get Xavier in foul trouble, which Wisconsin is prepared to do considering they lead the Big Ten in free throw attempts with 709 on the season.

“Those guys tend to get rewarded a little bit more when they’re making a strong, aggressive more around the rim, as opposed to a finesse move,” Paris explained. “How a game is officiated probably plays into it. If you’re attacking and the refs are calling certain things, they’re different from game to game. That’s why you have a different crew. If you can get around the rim and then call some fouls, they’re going to play the same pretty much. Everyone’s going to make adjustments. They’re going to play their brand of basketball, as they should, it’s gotten them this far.”

The Badgers will also look to make this happen with hard cuts to the basket, utilizing the swing offense Greg Gard has brought back to the team since taking over. Throwing different offensive looks at the Muskateers will be key, just like Chris Mack’s squad will do on defense.

“We’re going to put a couple of wrinkles into our offense to make sure we get more cuts, more movement that allow us to get to the free throw line a little bit more hopefully,” assistant coach Howard Moore said. “They’re a physical team; it’s like we’ve done against teams in our league. Use that physicality against them, and hard cuts are the way to do it. If you can get guys cutting hard and touching the post, they’re going to make mistakes somehow, some way. If we can get them to kind of buy into that, get sucked into that defensive situation there, they’ve gotta guard cuts in the paint, they’ve gotta guard post touches, hopefully that gives us a chance that way.”

Lastly, the Badgers are going to have to limit Xavier’s good looks, both in the paint and on the perimeter. The Muskateers shot 45.2% on the season, shooting 36.2% from deep, but struggled in their five losses.

“The biggest thing is that Seton Hall is a team that they get out and pressure and deny a little bit,” Moore agreed. “Obviously that’s a little bit different from what we do. But, what we can do is limit the easy shots. Make them tough contested two’s, no open three’s, and obviously really try to clog the paint. No straight line drives and no easy post moves into the paint.”

The bottom line for Wisconsin will be limiting Xavier to 40% or lower from the field (stretch to 43%), 10 or less offensive rebounds, and shoot 25 free throws. That is easier said than done, but at least it gives the Badgers a framework to work with.

In the end, Paris was asked if this will be a tough matchup for the Badgers. “I want to say yes,” he said. “Simply put because whomever we’re playing is either going to be really good, playing really well, or both. And they’re both.”

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