Three Big Ten teams remain in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, with Wisconsin first taking the floor against Baylor on Thursday night.
Given that the Bears opened their tournament against Nebraska, we’ve already written a scouting report on Baylor. Since then, the Bears have been impressive in blowout victories over the Huskers and Creighton, but the team’s overall characteristics remain the same.
Baylor’s strength is its offense, and it’s a mighty good one. The Bears are tenacious on the offensive glass, and they keep three good offensive rebounders on the floor at all times.
Both Nebraska and Creighton did a fine job on the defensive glass against Baylor, and I expect Wisconsin, which ranks ahead of both teams in defensive rebounding percentage, to have the same success in this area. It’s interesting that the Bears have had to face a gauntlet of good defensive rebounding teams in this tournament; at some point, you figure the lack of second chances will doom a Baylor offense that has relied on them all season.
On the perimeter, Baylor relies heavily on two players: point guard Kenny Chery and sharpshooter Brady Heslip.
The undersized Chery excels in the midrange, thanks largely to a floater that has allowed him to shoot 48 percent on twos this season – an impressive figure for a 5-11 player. Chery is also one the nation’s leaders in assist rate.
Chery hasn’t had a great tournament inside the arc – he’s 2-for-10 on twos – but he’s made up for it with some careful distribution (six assists against no turnovers) and red-hot three-point shooting (4-for-6).
Heslip is one of those players that does just one thing well, but he does it so well that he’s still valuable. For Heslip, that one thing is three-point shooting. The 6-2 senior has made 46 percent of his threes this season, and he attempts nearly seven per game.
Heslip is even more dangerous in transition, where he has shot an unreal 55 percent on threes. The three-point shot is Brady Heslip’s layup, and the Badgers would be wise to stay cognizant of his whereabouts at all times.
Happily, Wisconsin is one the best teams in the nation at limiting threes, so Heslip is likely to find open looks much tougher to come by than he did against Nebraska or Creighton. This could be a big key to the game.
On defense, Baylor isn’t nearly as good as you’d expect given the size of its frontline, headlined by 7-1 shot-eraser Isaiah Austin. The Bears use a sagging zone that plays like a compact 1-3-1, preferring to make teams beat them from the perimeter. Too often, opponents have done just that. Big 12 opponents shot a staggering 38 percent on threes against Baylor, and that’s not a conference that is particularly accurate from three. Some of that is bad luck, but the Bears also give up a lot of open looks from outside.
So far in this tournament, Baylor has had incredibly good fortune when it has come to three-point defense. Nebraska and Creighton shot a combined 9-for-45 from three (20 percent), a frigid number that would indicate lots of luck even for a team adept at limiting threes. The Bears are not that team, so the cold outside shooting of their tournament foes has been most fortunate indeed.
I see this game coming down to how well Wisconsin shoots from the outside. I feel the Badgers can take away Baylor’s two main offensive weapons – threes and offensive rebounds – and so the outcome will be decided by Wisconsin’s scoring output. With the Bears’ massive frontline making things difficult on the interior, it will be up to the Badgers’ three-point shooters to bring home the victory.
I’ll take Wisconsin by five.