NCAA tourney preview: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
No. 8 Wisconsin faces No. 1 Villanova in the East Region on Saturday afternoon. The winner advances to the Sweet 16, which Wisconsin has advanced to each of the last three seasons and five of the last six.
Here are some quick facts about the upcoming game:
Working in Wisconsin’s favor:
- The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking eighth in efficiency and ninth in 2-point shooting (42.8%)
- Wisconsin doesn’t foul a lot. They are 23rd in opponents free throw rate. They also rebound it well. They are ranked 20th in offensive rebounding and 31st in defensive rebounding.
- Bronson Koenig is back. He’s made big shots throughout his tournament career, including the game-winner against Xavier last year. After struggling with a leg injury earlier in the season, he’s averaging 18.4 points and shooting 44% from 3 in the last eight games. He made eight 3-pt FG in the 1st round against Virginia Tech, which was tied for the 2nd-most by a Big Ten player in an NCAA Tournament game.
- They have a ton of experience. They start four seniors and they are the only team in the country that has made the Sweet 16 in each of the previous three seasons.
- Nigel Hayes has played with a lot more urgency lately. He’s had double doubles in three straight games and he’s averaging 14.4 PPG with 8.7 RPG in the last 9 games, including five double-doubles in that span. He had 14 points and seven rebounds in the second half against Virginia Tech and made 8-of-9 free throws.
- Villanova mostly plays zone so there could be lots of opportunities for Wisconsin shooters to make 3s. It also means that offensive rebounds could be had for the Badgers.
- Villanova isn’t great defending 2-point shots (allow 48.7%) and they just average in half court defense, ranking outside the Top 120 in both categories.
Working against Wisconsin:
- Wisconsin is one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country. It makes just 64.8% of their attempts, which ranks 327th nationally.
- The Badgers are really bad defending the 3-point line. Teams shoot nearly 38% from 3 against them, which ranks 311th nationally. Meanwhile, Villanova shoots 37% from 3 and has five rotation players that have made at least 39 3s.
- Can Wisconsin come back if they fall behind? Both teams play at a very slow tempo and statistically, Villanova is better offensively and defensively. Wisconsin won’t have many transition opportunities and they aren’t great in the half court, ranking 225th nationally in non-transition offense.
- Villanova is ranked 2nd in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency. The Wildcats join Kentucky, Wichita State and Gonzaga as the only teams in the nation that are ranked in the Top 20 in both categories. They force turnovers on 20% of opponents possessions, rank 23rd in steals and 20th in defending the 3-point line (31.1%)
- Villanova is great at finishing at the rim, making 72.2% of shots at that range, which is 4th nationally. More than 34% of their shots come at that range. They are also 4th in effective field goal percentage and 2nd in 2-point shooting, making nearly 60% of shots inside the arc.
- This game could come down to the free-throw line. Villanova doesn’t foul. They are first in opponents free-throw rate. They also make 79.2% of their free throws, which is 2nd nationally.
- Villanova is very balanced. 8 players average at least 22 minutes per game and none play more than 31. They have four players averaging in double figures, led by National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart, who averages nearly 19 points per game while shooting 51% from the floor and 41% from 3.