March 18, 2017
First thing's first: The NCAA Tournament selection committee did a terrible job seeding the East Region, handing the defending champ and top overall seed such a tough, experienced opponent in the second round. It stinks for their opponent, too. The committee's handling of the Big Ten (B1G!) was baffling, and as a result, it will be No. 1 Villanova and No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo.
Wisconsin gets underseeded & now the defending champs, Villanova, gets a team in 2nd round with guys who have been in 2 Final Fours.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) March 17, 2017
Wisconsin opened as just a 1.5 point underdog vs Villanova. Great reward for that #1 overall seed, Selection Committee.— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) March 17, 2017
Villanova-Wisconsin, the second-round game that should be a Sweet 16 game, and in the preseason would've been forecasted for the Elite Eight— Luke Winn (@lukewinn) March 17, 2017
As Fran Fraschilla noted above, Wisconsin has some dudes that have played in massive games before. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were in the rotation on two Final Four teams! And after Wisconsin survived a solid Virginia Tech team, Villanova needs to be better than they were in the opening round against Mount St. Mary's if they want to make the Sweet 16.
All complaints aside, Villanova will beat this Wisconsin team if they play something like their B+ game. And as Jay Wright's team proved last year, making it out of a tough region can be extremely advantageous once you make the Final Four.
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• BETTING LINE:Villanova -6 | OVER-UNDER: 129
And now onto our prediction…
I'm trusting my good friend Ken Pomeroy (note: we don't know each other) with this prediction. Let's start out with the obvious: This game is going to be played at a slow pace. There are 351 teams in Division 1 college basketball, and 'Nova and Wisconsin rank 323 and 334 in adjusted tempo, respectively. And Wisconsin is a Top-10 defensive team with rugged players like Hayes, Ethan Happ, and Vitto Brown in the rotation.
The thing is, 'Nova has a Top-10 offense and defense. And sometimes I think that a poor first-round performance can serve as a bit of a wake-up call for teams in the tourney. One recent example that comes to my mind is 2009 Villanova, who was down big to American in the second half in South Philly as a 3-seed. They responded by blowing the doors off UCLA and Duke en route to a Final Four appearance.
I don't think that 'Nova will have that type of performance, or the one we saw when they dismantled Iowa in the second round last year. Wisconsin isn't great, but they have the type of size (Happ, in particular) that can give 'Nova some real problems. Wright is going to need a much better Kris Jenkins in this game, too.
To me, this is a very scary game for defending champs. I'll take 'Nova, but in a tight one.
If Villanova intends to repeat as NCAA Tournament champs, they’ll need to avoid starts like the one against Mount St. Mary’s in the opener that saw them take a one-point lead into the half. Hopefully, it was simply a product of the long layoff and not a sign of things to come – the fact that they went on to win comfortably suggests it was the former.
Against Wisconsin, the Wildcats face a team with tournament experience, but make no mistake, this is not the same team that lost to Duke in the final two years ago; it’s not even the team that lost to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 in Philly last year. The Badgers were 193rd in the country in scoring during the regular season, averaging just 72.4 points per game (Villanova was tied for 69th with 77.7 PPG). They finished Big 10 play with losses in five of their last seven games before beating Indiana and Northwestern to advance to the conference tourney finals (which they lost to Michigan).
That being said, they’re still dangerous.
Seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes lead the way, but sophomore Ethan Happ can create problems down low – despite their struggles scoring, they’re ninth in the nation in points allowed at 61.5 per game (Villanova is 16th at 62.6 PPG). Still, I think Jay Wright’s team will pull away late in this one to the Sweet 16 in New York City, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was a year ago.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann