After the Wisconsin Badgers upset the No. 1 overall seed Villanova Wildcats, they had to wait to find out which team they would play in their fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance.
No. 4 Florida routed No. 5 Virginia by a whopping 26 points, and the Badgers will face the Gators Friday at Madison Square Garden, The World’s Most Famous Arena.
In the Round of 32, Florida dominated Virginia by playing stellar defense. They held the Cavaliers to 29.6% shooting and only 39 points. Virginia was not known this season for their offensive firepower, but Florida still did a great job containing them. Wisconsin is similar to Virginia in the sense that they are a good defensive team that does not produce big offensive numbers, but still have the ability to advance to the Elite Eight with a win on Friday. A good sign for Wisconsin: Florida only had 65 points against Virginia, a number that the Badgers have reached or surpassed in all of their wins in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament. The Badgers defense should be able to contain the Gators’ offense and give their own offense opportunities to score.
Wisconsin can win this game if they do what Wisconsin basketball does best: control the game on both ends of the floor. The Badgers are known for their defense, and they’ll need to bring it, as Florida averages 77.9 points per game this year. Wisconsin is 24-5 when they hold opponents to 70 points or less – they’re just 3-4 when teams score 71 or more. Florida has only scored below Wisconsin’s average of 61 points allowed per game twice; they were 1-1 in those games. Additionally, the Badgers are known for playing a slow pace – their average of 66.7 possessions per game this year is 332nd in the country (out of 351). Florida plays at a much quicker pace – 72.4 possessions per game – and if Wisconsin can’t limit them, things could get out of hand quickly. Both teams shoot the ball similarly – Wisconsin shooting 45.3 percent, and Florida 45.1 percent – but Wisconsin is 332nd in free throw shooting (64.3 percent) and Florida is 101st (72.6 percent), so they’ll need to execute at the line as well. Florida also shoots at a slightly better clip from the three point line, 36.1 percent to 35.7 percent, and turns the ball over 12 times per game compared to Wisconsin’s 11.
Florida will win if they play lockdown defense again and can score inside against the big men from Wisconsin. Wisconsin and Virginia are both similar caliber teams when it comes to offense, and we saw how Florida was able to shut down Virginia. If Florida does not play the same level of defense this week, the Badgers should come away with a win, if they can execute on their half. Florida lacks a dominating presence inside to combat Ethan Happ – Devin Robinson, who had 11 rebounds against Virginia, is two inches shorter and 32 pounds lighter than Ethan Happ; in fact, the only two players as tall as Happ on Florida who aren’t injured (Gak and Rimmer) accumulate the least amount of minutes on the team. Robinson must win the matchup against Happ for Florida to have a chance. Florida also held a Virginia team that shoots 38.5 percent from three to just 1/15 from beyond the arc; Trice, Showalter and Koenig – all of whom shoot better than 39 percent from three – will need to be hitting, or Florida will win.
Similar to Wisconsin, Florida was largely doubted coming into the tournament – their only very impressive win was over Kentucky, and their regular season included losses to Duke, Florida State, Gonzaga, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt (three times!). However, they proved doubters wrong by beating up on Virginia, just as the Badgers were able to get past Villanova after accumulating few impressive wins in the regular season. Both teams also stumbled into March – Wisconsin lost five of seven before the Big Ten tournament, and Florida lost three of its last four prior to the NCAA tournament. Now, though, none of that matters – both teams will need to execute in every aspect of their game in order to advance.
No. 8 Wisconsin takes on No. 4 Florida at 8:59 p.m. CT on Friday in Madison Square Garden. The game can be seen on TBS.