After almost every other game of the first round had tipped off, Xavier finally got to get into the action at about half past nine last night. All that watching and waiting must have had the Muskies primed to go, because they came out of the gate like a 2 seed playing a 15, staking themselves to an early lead and never looking back.
Waiting for them tomorrow in the second round will be Wisconsin, who did pretty much the exact opposite. Nearly 15 minutes into the game, the Badgers had scored 8 points and were down a dozen. KenPom gave them an 18.9% chance of salvaging the game. They put together a modest 8-2 run to close the half, then chipped away before finally establishing a lead at 38-36... with five minutes to play. By the time the clock struck 0:00, they had won 47-43 and set basketball back 100 years.
Xavier will take on Wisconsin on TNT on Sunday at 8:40pm, or directly following the Syracuse - Middle Tennessee slugfest.
Here's the defining factor of Wisconsin's offense: they play slowly. Really slowly. Their possessions average over 20 seconds; only two teams in the country play more slowly. They're not a good shooting team, but they do a good job of not turning the ball over and are just a hair outside the top 50 in the offensive rebounding. Of particular note to Xavier is that they are a basically average three-point shooting team and don't lift from deep all that often.
On defense, Wisconsin actually plays pretty quickly. They also play really well, ranking 17th in the country in defensive efficiency. They do that by choking off the arc hard; only 29% of opponents attempts come from deep. They're in the top 50 in two-point percentage defense and solidly above average on the defensive glass. Forcing turnovers is not a big part of what they do on the defensive end. Overall, their defense is one that is really going to make you work for anything you get.
Wisconsin has used one starting lineup this year. The five dudes who started the opener under Bo Ryan have started every game since. I don't have an actionable point here, but that's remarkable, so I'm remarking.
Anyway, when he's not flirting with the stenographer, 6'8", 240-pound junior forward Nigel Hayes is busy carrying the mail for Bucky. He averages 16.2/5.8/3.0 on .373/.298/.742 shooting. You probably recognize that as a pretty poor shooting line. He's a solid but unspectacular rebounder who never turns the ball over.
Bronson Koenig is the team's leading perimeter threat, going for 13.1/2.6/2.5 per game on .397/.390/.763 shooting. He has hit 76 threes this year, so getting a hand in his face will be kind of a big deal. He's not a frequent driver or much of a mid-range threat, but he is willing to put the ball on the deck in search of a three-point shot. Remy Abell has his work cut out.
Freshman center Ethan Happ is 6'9", 235, the largest player on Wisconsin's roster. He's their primary post scorer, good for 12.2/7.8/1.3 on 534./.000/.634 shooting. He's not a good jump shooter at all, shooting just 21% from the mid range. He is a solid offensive rebounder and a very good defensive rebounder.
The other starters are Vitto Brown, a 6'8" wing who gets after the offensive glass and will stick threes if left untended, and Zak Showalter, a junior point guard who doesn't look for his shot but is an excellent finisher and solid three-point shooter. Brown goes for 9.7 and 5.1 and Showalter averages 7.5 per game.
And that's pretty much it. Wisconsin gets 22.7% of their minutes from the bench, 12th-fewest in the nation. Only two players get more than 10 minutes off the bench, and nobody from the pine gets more than 3.1 points per game. James Farr has comfortably outscored the entire Wisconsin bench this year, and JP Macura only lags behind them by 5 points.
Keys to the game
-Attack early. Wisconsin hasn't won a regulation game with more than 65 possessions in it since before Thanksgiving. Xavier's average tempo is almost 73 possessions per game; if the Musketeers can control the pace of the game and get it accelerated, Wisconsin will be outside of its comfort zone.
-Protect possession. Whether or not Xavier can get the pace of this game up, the Badgers are going to make sure there aren't that many extra possessions to be had. Xavier can't afford to throw away chances to score with foolish shots and subpar ball security. Every rebound is going to be worth its weight in gold, too. When there aren't that many possessions to go around, you've gotta make sure that you're wringing the maximum value out of each of them.
-Get Edmond going. The Badgers don't have anyone like Ed. Not many teams do, really. Xavier is a much more dynamic team with Sumner in gear, as evidenced by their fairly pedestrian performance without his best work against Weber State. Running him off of Tre on the high post in horns action to get east shots and working a few early ball screens to give him the chance to make some decisions in the paint might help him settle in to the NCAA tournament experience.