Tourney recap: Bronson Koenig's record night propels Wisconsin
Once the bracket was announced last Sunday, the howling began: How come Wisconsin was a No. 8 seed? The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten in the regular season and reached the league tourney title game, too. Still, Wisconsin was relegated to a No. 8 seed.
No time for a pity party.
Time to go to work, which is what Greg Gard’s team did.
The Badgers took care of business in their opening NCAA game, downing No. 9 Virginia Tech, 84-74, to reach the round of 32 a fourth season in succession (full box score). This is a team that had some issues down the stretch, as injury played a role in the team’s struggles. Wisconsin went 2-5 in its last seven games before heating up in the Big Ten tourney where it lost the title game to Michigan.
This is a dangerous Badger squad that has played a lot of NCAA games in recent years, reaching the Final Four in 2014 and the title game in 2015. Seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have been there and done that, so they won’t be fazed by anything. And neither will sophomore Ethan Happ inside.
Top star: Let’s hear it for sweet-shooting Bronson Koenig. The senior hit 9-of-21 shots and was 8-of-17 from 3-point range to finish with a game-high 28 points. It seemed whenever Wisconsin needed a big hoop, Koenig provided it. His eight 3-pointers were a school single-game NCAA mark. The guy is money. Also need to mention fellow senior Nigel Hayes, who had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Top stat: 37, rebounds for Wisconsin. And of those, 17 came on the offensive glass, which allowed the Badgers to get some easy put-back hoops. The Fighting Gobblers had only 25 boards with six on the offensive glass.
It was over when …: This was a nip-and-tuck affair. Wisconsin had a 34-30 halftime edge and led throughout the second half, but the Badgers never could get separation from the Hokies. After a pair of VPI free throws with 8:51 left, Wisconsin’s lead was just 60-59. But the Badgers took command from there, outscoring the Fighting Gobblers 24-15 to take the win.
What’s next? Wisconsin’s reward for its opening victory vs. Virginia Tech? A date with the tourney’s No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova. The Badgers aren’t your typical No. 8 seed, so the Wildcats need to be careful. No. 1 seeds don’t often lose to No. 8 or No. 9 seeds. But, it could happen here.