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In the past eight days, the Badgers have taken the teams they were supposed to behind the woodshed and showed them what for. How has that affected their tournament standing?
Previously On Badger Bracketology: As a 5 seed with the reputation for inconsistent offense that Wisconsin has? The Badgers are your sexy pick for an upset victim.
Since then, Wisconsin has buzzbombed the teams it was supposed to. Ryan Evans jumpers as free throws are a thing. A wonderful thing. And it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Badgers could come out with a piece of the Big Ten trophy. So if the brackets were announced today, who would the Badgers step up and face?
Bucknell's an interesting team. The Bison have one of the more dominant small-school big men in Mike Muscala (averages 19.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game), and they have two three-point shooters with at least 39 percent accuracy from the arc (Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers). But beyond Joe Willman's double-figure scoring average? They really don't have much else. They don't have a big man coming off the bench for more than nine minutes a game.
But what they have works pretty well. They beat a tournament contender in LaSalle, they almost beat a tournament contender in Missouri, and while they aren't going to get many offensive rebounds, they will fight you for every miss you make, and they can win the battle on the glass because of it.
Personal Worry Level: The senior-laden team that knows how to play a slow brand of ball (Pomeroy Tempo Ranking of 263) and has stood toe-to-toe with good teams? There would be worry. But Bucknell lost to Penn State. Any argument to its success is moot.
There is one aspect to this hypothetical match-up that scares me. The Bulldogs are remarkably dominant at defending the three-point line (teams are shooting 28.3 percent against, good for sixth in the country). As the Badgers have a propensity to fire at will from beyond the arc (24th most frequently in the nation with 624 attempts overall), it could get ugly. Louisiana Tech is also currently in the Top 25. So that's kind of scary, as well.
But here's why I don't despair. While they play some really good defense and they shut down the perimeter like few other teams, there's a cognitive dissonance on the offensive side of the ball. They play fast and put up a lot of shots. Very few of them drop -- Lousiana Tech is 38th in terms of attempts (18th from beyond the arc) and 280th in terms of field goal percentage (240th from beyond the arc). Raheem Appleby's the microcosm for their potential tournament issues. He averages 14.2 shots per game and scores 14.7 points per game.
Personal Worry Level: Low.
(An aside? Lunardi had the Badgers up on the four line in his Bracketology between when last we met and this one. After they destroyed Northwestern, they fell back to the 5 line. Whatever.)
On Dec. 15th, the Zips traveled to Detroit and played Detroit Mercy. They lost 80-73. They fell to 4-4. Why does this matter? Because they haven't lost since.
Akron doesn't have a pure dominant scorer, as 10 players get at least 10 minutes of run per game and the leading scorer is only eight points ahead of the ninth-leading scorer. But how have the Zips won? They do work on the low post. Zeke Marshall has 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. Demetrius Treadwell has 7.7 rebounds per. Alex Abreu is a solid sharp-shooting distributor dropping about six assists per game.
They don't have a signature win to their name, but like Bucknell, they do have a close loss against a good team in taking Oklahoma State to overtime. As it is, Akron could very well win the Mid-American Conference if it beats Ohio tonight.
Personal Worry Level: Low. They're not a bad team. But they aren't sharp from three, and they aren't great on the line. I trust the Badgers winning on the glass.
Hey, it's someone projecting a first-four match-up for us! In and of itself, it would be pretty fun. Both teams play fast, and both teams have offensive games that are pretty fun. But since we don't have a full match-up here?
Iowa State is a team that lives and dies by the accuracy of their three-point shooting. They could very well end up with six players that shoot two threes a game, and three that will shoot five threes. Will Clyburn has the Ryan Evans skill set, but with no free throw concerns. Big Ten fans know Korie Lucious and Chris Babb well. They will score, and score efficiently.
UMass plays fast, and as someone who is a fan of whimsy, Chaz Williams is very enjoyable. The 5-foot-9 Hofstra transfer has taken up the scoring load with the injury to Jesse Morgan. He leads the team in scoring, throws out 7.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds (!) and two steals a game, and attacks the tall trees and leads the team in free throw attempts. Not to say they don't miss Morgan, but Williams is definitely a player worth watching.
Personal Worry Level: For Iowa State? It's medium. Sure the Cyclones can die by the three, but when they live, they live well. But they also have a tendency to lose hilariously and react maturely when they do.
For UMass? It's low. The Minutemen still have Butler to deal with. And they have a lower standing in the Atlantic Ten than their next opponent (Xavier), and it's at their place. UMass could very well be back on the quest for 69.