Wisconsin men’s basketball: A quick look at Notre Dame

After an extremely improbable win thanks to some late night heroics over #2-seed Xavier on Sunday night, the Wisconsin Badgers will be headed to their third Sweet 16 in a row and the fifth in the last six years.

In Philadelphia, they’ll face off against #6-seed Notre Dame, one of a record-six ACC teams to advance to the round of 16 (along with UNC, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, and Miami). As of Monday, FiveThirtyEight has this game as a literal 50-50 matchup – either team has an equal shot of winning. So what do the Badgers need to do to stop Notre Dame and advance to a third straight Elite 8?

Notre Dame’s Resumé

Notre Dame finished the season at a 20-11 mark, which ended on a sour note with a 31-point loss to North Carolina in the ACC Conference Tournament. They were 5-5 against the RPI top 50, which included an impressive season sweep of Duke and a signature 80-76 win over North Carolina at home. Their worst loss came on the road at Florida State, but with an RPI of 78, Notre Dame has not experienced the kind of losses that Wisconsin was known for early on this season (Western Illinois, Milwaukee, Marquette, etc.). Additionally, Notre Dame faced three Big Ten opponents throughout the season, going 2-1 with wins over Illinois and Iowa and a loss to Indiana.

Like most teams, Notre Dame can win when they’re scoring well. In 11 losses this year, they’ve averaged just 64.8 PPG, well below their season mark of 75.7 PPG. On the other hand, Notre Dame has failed to score at least 80 in just six of their 20 wins in the regular season, which should be noted when going up against the formidable Wisconsin defense. (Xavier, who came in averaging 81.3 PPG, was limited to just 63 against the Badgers). While 15-6 at home, Notre Dame is just 5-5 on the road (excluding tournament games).


Notre Dame’s starters play an extremely important role in their offense, and much like the Badgers, the Fighting Irish don’t like to go to their bench. Each of the five Notre Dame starters averages at least 11.4 PPG and 25 minutes per game. The team is led in scoring by guard Demetrius Jackson, who is 10-for-16 shooting in the tournament for 29 points thus far. Jackson leads the team in assists as well (4.7 per game), so look for him to run the offense and distribute the ball to the best scoring option. He’s the smallest starter on the team at just 6’1”, so he’ll matchup well against either Bronson Koenig or Zak Showalter.

The most interesting matchup will come down low, as Ethan Happ will have his hands full against forward Zach Auguste the whole night. Auguste, who averages 14.3 PPG and nearly 11 boards per game, has had an insanely efficient tournament, going 12-for-14 from the field and averaging 13.5 rebounds in Notre Dame’s two wins. While Auguste is definitely a presence inside, he also turns the ball over quite frequently, averaging 3.2 TOPG in his last nine. That bodes well for a matchup against Happ, who led the Big Ten in steals in the regular season.

The Fighting Irish has three other efficient scoring options in forward V.J. Beachem (11.6 PPG), Steve Vasturia (11.6), and Bonzie Colson (11.4). Beachem had the hot hand in Notre Dame’s first round matchup against Michigan, going 7-for-7 shooting including 4-for-4 from three point range. A very legitimate three point threat, Beachem who made nearly 44% of his threes this season, will need to be played well on the perimeter. He’ll likely be matched up against Vitto Brown, who has also been a three-point threat as of late but is not known for his defensive skills. Vasturia, a three-year starter and junior, has been cold of late, going just 6-for-22 in the tournament thus far. He’s listed as a 6’5” guard, and is a versatile option at the 2-spot – look for a matchup against whoever is not on Jackson. Bonzie Colson, a forward also listed at 6’5”, has had a much quieter tournament, taking just eight shots so far. He’s foul prone but can rebound well, and is an efficient shooter at nearly 55% from the field. If Greg Gard decides to put Nigel on Colson, this could be an extremely favorable matchup for Wisconsin.

Much like Wisconsin, Notre Dame’s bench is not utilized often, but look for Matt Ryan, Rex Pflueger, and Matt Farrell to make an impact on the game. Pflueger drained the layup that sent the Irish to the Sweet 16, and the three combined to average around 10 a game.

Tournament Performance

Notre Dame took home a comeback win in the first round against another Big Ten opponent in Michigan. The Irish experienced their first lead of the game with just nine minutes left, but went on an 11-4 run to end the game and take home a 70-63 victory. They shot extremely well – 58.1% from the field and 53.3% from three – but turned the ball over 16 times. Another strong point for the Irish in this game was the lack of fouls – their nine fouls throughout the game led to just five Michigan free throw attempts and just three makes. The Badgers, who have been known for production at the line this season, will need to drive and be aggressive on offense to draw fouls – Michigan spelled its own downfall by not getting to the stripe enough. Farrell actually started this game, but Bonzie Colson contributed 18 minutes and 12 points off the bench. Notre Dame only played eight guys as well (the eight mentioned above), and it’s likely that depth is just as much of an issue for the Badgers as it is for the Irish.

On Sunday, the Irish narrowly escaped #14-seed Stephen F. Austin, and won it on a late tap-in by Pflueger with just 1.5 seconds to go. Again, the Irish shot well (56.9% from the field, 35.3% from three), but turned the ball over 13 times and were almost out-rebounded by a smaller team. Beachem, Auguste and Vasturia led the effort, combining for 20-for-30 from the floor, which translated to 49 of Notre Dame’s 76 points. Auguste recorded seven offensive rebounds, something that Happ will definitely be watching tape of over the next couple of days. Again, Notre Dame was efficient in fouling, committing just 12 fouls the whole game and sending SFA to the stripe just nine times (they made all nine). Notre Dame’s perimeter defense held SFA to below 30% shooting from three. Again, they played the same eight men with Colson coming off the bench, but this time he was limited to just 13 minutes.


Fortunately, Wisconsin matches up well against the 6-seed Fighting Irish, and while the game is a relative toss up, the Badgers have a lot of well-earned confidence after pulling the upset over Xavier. With solid perimeter defense and a commitment to contesting jump shots, the Badgers are likely to limit Notre Dame to a much worse shooting performance than they’ve had in the last couple of games. Ethan Happ vs. Zach Auguste down low will be the matchup to watch, but if Happ can stay out of foul trouble and box out, he can find success. Overall, with good defense and finding holes on offense, the Badgers will be able to find their way into a third-straight Elite 8 and a matchup against either Indiana or UNC.