With Pitt's NCAA Tournament game coming up against Wisconsin, I had a chance to get some questions over to SB Nation's Badgers site, Bucky's 5th Quarter. Phil over there was kind enough to answer them and give us a little insight into Wisconsin's program and the game.
I answered some questions over there as well, which you should be able to see in advance of the game. See my questions as well his answers below.
With the way Pitt finished the year (losses in three of their final four games) and only one big statement win this year over Duke, most Panthers fans aren't grumbling much about the No. 10 seed the team received. It's mostly where they were projected and it's hard to argue much. How are Wisconsin fans feeling about the No. 7 seed? Should it have been higher/lower or is it about right?
I think it's about right. Wisconsin could have made a push with a couple wins in the Big Ten tournament, but oh well. You have to balance the big wins with the numerous letdowns and the Nebraska game proved there are still traces of that early season team with a broken offense. I would guess some Badger fans are just happy to be back in the tournament as a favored seed considering how grim the season was looking a couple months ago. Hopefully the team itself isn't thinking that way though...
The first thing I noticed when reviewing the Badgers' season was the amount of ups and downs the team experienced. There are several big wins, a couple that were close losses, and then a bunch of puzzling losses. Which is the Wisconsin team you expect to see show up on Friday?
Given the amount of time Greg Gard and company have to prepare for Pitt, I think Wisconsin will be ready to roll. I expect Nigel Hayes to be very motivated to play and Koenig has usually played well in March. The program has won eight of its last nine first-round games, but three years ago they were upset as a No. 5. And of course, the Badgers are winless as a No. 7 seed in the NCAAs, so there's that. Usually you can tell pretty early with this team if the opponent is able to get them out of sync or not, so we won't have to wait long to find out which version came to play.
What's gone wrong for Wisconsin in some of those losses to weaker teams?
For the most part, the struggles have come on the offensive end. And one of the common threads is that junior point guard Bronson Koenig has struggled. Koenig played well in the shocking opener against Western Illinois, but averaged 10.6 points on just 26.6 percent shooting in the five other losses to non-tournament teams. That really drags down the whole team's efficiency. The Badgers also sent teams to the free throw line at a higher than normal rate, part of which could be due to digging themselves into an early hole and playing from behind.
What are the main strengths/weaknesses for the Badgers?
On balance, Wisconsin is pretty solid on defense, despite a few brain farts in transition. Statistics show the Badgers surrender a terrible percentage from three-point land, but they are successful in their strategy of limiting long distance attempts. This might sound odd, but Wisconsin is also great at forcing turnovers. Redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, a 6-9 forward, easily led the Big Ten in steal percentage thanks to his hands and high basketball IQ.
I'd be foolish to not mention Hayes as a strength also. Even though his shot selection can be frustrating in stretches, he's one of the best players in the country at getting to the free throw line and he's also become a much better one-on-one defender this season.
The biggest weakness in my opinion is the inability to get easy points consistently. Primarily because Wisconsin has trouble finishing around the rim, but also due to inconsistency at the free throw line. Even though Happ has become a focal point of the offense, he struggles in both of those areas and has no jump shot. This isn't one of the better passing teams I've seen at Wisconsin either. Finally, Wisconsin's best players, Hayes and Koenig are streaky shooters, so an off night would leave the team in a tough position. The Badgers' starting shooting guard, Zak Showalter, along with most of the Badger reserves, are offensive liabilities most nights.
Give me a prediction for Friday's game.
I think the Badgers have a bitter taste in their mouths after these last two losses and will come out focused. I think Wisconsin matches up well with Pittsburgh's strongest players, so if the Badgers can match Pitt's intensity, I like Wisconsin in a low-scoring four or five-point game. Keep an eye out for Vitto Brown's shooting as the difference.
I realize this is a basketball game but my readers would probably kill me if I didn't sneak at least one Paul Chryst question in. Overall, what's your sense of his tenure one year in? With a more difficult slate in 2016, how do you see Chryst faring this year and, so far, what's the consensus of Badgers fans about him as a coach?
So far, so good. Especially after the win over USC in the bowl game. We knew what we were getting from a media relations standpoint. I think most people who follow recruiting have been pleasantly surprised with what Chryst and his staff have accomplished on the trail outside of a few hiccups. However, as you implied, Chryst had a pretty easy in year one. A 7-5 record in 2016 is not far-fetched, considering UW opens with LSU, then starts Big Ten play at Michigan State, at Michigan, home against Ohio State and at Iowa all in a row. Developing a good quarterback and recovering from the loss of DC Dave Aranda will be the keys to Chryst's success in the immediate future.