Following a red-hot 21-3 SU start to the 2016-17 campaign, Wisconsin struggled down the stretch, losing five of its last seven regular-season affairs before making a deep run in the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Wisconsin possesses unparalleled leadership (five returning starters) behind seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, both of whom have played in sixteen NCAA Tournament games (including Final Four experience).
Indeed, the Badgers have reached the Sweet Sixteen in five of the past six Tournaments, including two Final Four appearances. In all, the seniors on Wisconsin’s roster own an incredible 13-3 SU (.813) record in the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin entered the NCAA Tournament with an elite defense that was 13.0 points per game better than average (61.4 points per game to teams that would combine to average 74.4 points per game). The Badgers are limiting opponents to just 63.0 points per game in postseason play and are giving up just seven offensive rebounds per game over that span.
Center Ethan Happ patrols the paint for Wisconsin and led the Big Ten in steal rate and was 8th in block rate. Meanwhile, Florida lost its best rim protector, John Egbunu, to a season-ending knee injury in February.
The 6-foot-7 center played in 24 games and averaged 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, together with 34 total blocks. On February 11 against Texas A&M (one game before his injury), Egbunu pulled down ten rebounds and scored 11 points.
For the purposes of analyzing this game, I’ve actually downplayed the loss of Egbunu based upon the Gators’ defensive performances in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Florida limited East Tennessee State to 0.93 points per possession and held Virginia to 0.65 points per possession.
The fact that the Gators rank in the top 40 in field goal percentage defense and blocked shots makes the decision to downgrade the impact of Egbunu’s absence an easy one to make. With that said, losing your team’s leading rebounder in the final stanza of the regular season certainly hurts Florida around the rim.
The Badgers rank 11th in the nation in scoring defense, 11th in defensive efficiency, 23rd in personal fouls per game (16.0), 20th in rebound margin (6.4) and 24th in scoring margin (10.3). Wisconsin also does an excellent job defending the three-point line, allowing the 31st-worst percentage by opponents.
On the offensive end of the floor, Wisconsin takes good care of the ball and doesn’t beat itself with mind-numbing turnovers. The Badgers are currently 26th in the country in fewest turnovers per game (11.0)
From a technical standpoint, the Badgers are a profitable 7-1 ATS in their last eight non-conference games, 7-1-1 ATS in their last nine NCAA Tournament affairs when getting points and 5-1 ATS in their last six games versus .501 or greater opposition.
Let’s also note that Wisconsin is 11-6 SU versus SEC opposition, including 4-1-1 ATS in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Ten Conference is a money-making 14-6-1 ATS as underdogs versus SEC foes in the Tournament, including going 3-0 SU and ATS over the last three Dances.
Florida is coming off an impressive 65-39 win over Virginia in the Round of 32, but that result is actually bad news for Florida backers. Specifically, teams that allowed 39 points or less in the NCAA Tournament are a woeful 2-8 ATS in their next game, including 0-6 ATS when coming off a pair of straight-up wins.
No. 4 seeds have also struggled in the Sweet 16 over the last three years, posting a 2-6 ATS record. I also don’t put much significance in Florida’s destruction of Virginia in the Round of 32 because the Cavaliers were trying to play their pack-line defense with only three legitimate forwards, all of whom were underclassmen.
Wisconsin’s interior defense features 6-foot-8, 240 pound seniors Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown, together with 6-foot-10, 232 pound Ethan Happ. The Badgers did an excellent job in disrupting and limiting Villanova’s dribble-penetration, holding the Wildcats to fifteen points below their offensive per game average.
Finally, Sweet 16 favorites off a win by more than 20 points are 0-5 ATS. With Wisconsin standing at 13-4-1 ATS in its last eighteen NCAA Tournament games as an underdog, including 9-1-1 ATS following back-to-back wins, grab the points with the Badgers in this Sweet 16 clash and invest with confidence.
Oskeim Sports’ Free Sweet 16 Best Bet: Wisconsin (+2) (-110)