Preview: Wisconsin vs. Xavier
It will be a contrast of styles and pace when second-seeded Xavier meets seventh-seeded Wisconsin on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's East Region in St. Louis.
The Musketeers average 81 points and 72.6 possessions per contest — tops among the remaining tournament teams — while the Badgers are scoring 68.2 points in 63.9 possessions, which ranks ahead of only Northern Iowa (63) and Virginia (61.2) among the field.
In gearing up for Wisconsin’s deliberate style of play, Xavier coach Chris Mack said his team’s 71-53 first-round win over Weber State on Friday provided some good prep work.
“I thought tonight Weber State gave us a feel for that,” Mack said in his postgame news conference. “The only time they really ran were on our turnovers or long rebounds. Just the mere fact we played a team similar in terms of style in round one hopefully helps us for the next game.”
The Badgers, meanwhile, simply are trying to maintain the pace under first-year coach Greg Gard that led them to the Final Four in each of the last two seasons, and the first step was a less-than-picturesque but nevertheless effective 47-43 first-round victory over Pittsburgh on Friday.
“It was an ugly performance, but to pull that out says a lot about us,” Wisconsin guard Zak Showalter told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s the kind of team we want to be. We might not look the best, but we find a way to get it done.”
TV: 7:40 p.m. (today), TNT
About Wisconsin (21-12)
The Badgers easily finished with the lowest-prevailing point total (47) among the 32 first-round winners and shot only 32.1 percent from the field, including 4-of-19 from 3-point range. Ethan Happ accounted for nearly one-third (15) of Wisconsin’s points in the contest on 6-of-8 shooting and averages 12.2 points per game, but the team’s other two double-digit scorers - Nigel Hayes (16.2) and Bronson Koenig (13.1) - combined for only 14 points on 4-of-25 shooting. The Badgers’ opponents are averaging only 63.9 points, with Pittsburgh’s 43 marking the fewest allowed by the team this season.
About Xavier (28-5)
The Musketeers are aiming for their second straight Sweet 16 appearance and sixth in nine years with the highest NCAA tournament seed in team history. It was a promising start Friday as Xavier shot 48.4 percent and enjoyed a 43-27 rebound advantage behind senior James Farr’s sixth double-double (18 points, game-high 15 rebounds) of the season. Trevon Bluiett is averaging a team-high 15.3 points and is joined in double digits by Farr (11), Edmond Sumner (11) and Myles Davis (10.9), while Farr (eight) and Jalen Reynolds (6.4) are the squad’s leading rebounders.
1. The series between the schools is knotted at 2-2, but Xavier has won the last two meetings - including a 60-49 NCAA Tournament second-round win in 2009.
2. Entering the second round this year, only Kentucky (20) and Louisville (15) have recorded more tournament wins than Wisconsin’s 14 since 2011.
3. The Musketeers have won nine of their last 11 games against Big Ten Conference foes, including a 3-1 record in the NCAA Tournament.
PREDICTION: Xavier 74, Wisconsin 64