Three keys to victory
The Badgers handled their second round business in impressive fashion Thursday, wiping an offensively inept American squad off the floor with a 40-point win.
Today's opponent though, won't be so inept, as the 7-seed Oregon Ducks boast one of the best and most high-octane offenses in the NCAA Tournament. In their win over BYU Thursday, the Ducks look good... I mean really good.
Oregon ended its season similar to the way Wisconsin did, using a long winning streak to get a once promising year back on track. The Ducks have now won nine of their last 10 games, and they epitomize what it means to be playing your best ball at the right time. The Badgers certainly have their hands full this evening.
Oregon routed BYU in its second round win Thursday, scoring 87 points in the process. The Ducks now have the 11th-best scoring offense in the country, averaging 81.8 points per game. Their adjusted offense rank is amongst the tops in America too, coming in as the 13th-best according to KenPom. Safe to say, Oregon's offense is legit.
Defensively though, the Ducks are not all that good. They held Pac-12 opponents under 60 points just three times this season, and during their five-game losing skid early on in conference play, Oregon allowed point totals of 100, 96, 82, 80 and 80. The Ducks are athletic but undisciplined defensively, at least from what I've seen during a couple of their games this season. If the Badgers execute their game plan tonight, they should be able to get just about any shot they want.
But beating Oregon will be no small task for Wisconsin, especially if that same squad the blitzed BYU shows up today. With a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line, here are our three keys to a Badgers victory over the potent Ducks.
Feed Kaminsky & Hayes in the paint
Oregon is a guard-oriented squad that has been vulnerable with its paint defense for much of the season. I watched the Ducks' win over Arizona back on March 8 in their regular season finale, and while it was an impressive win, the Wildcats' frontcourt duo of Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds to dominate the interior.
Gordon and Tarczewski are studs athletically, but they're not nearly as skilled of big men as are Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes. If the Badgers can set up Kaminsky and Hayes with some isolation looks on the block, I foresee the Ducks struggling to stop Wisconsin's offense. Given Hayes' ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line and Kaminsky's craftiness with his up-and-under post moves, the Badgers have a major advantage in the post.
The Badgers are at their best when they get a post touch at least once a possession, and that should be utilized early and often in today's contest. Also, feeding the big guys down low allows for better Wisconsin ball movement, which eventually leads to open three looks for the likes of Ben Brust and Josh Gasser. The guards are going to have to hit shots for the Badgers to beat Oregon, but it all starts on the interior.
Make it a half court game
It's been noted time and time again the past couple of days, but the Ducks really do run, run and run some more. They want to turn today's contest into a track meet, which just isn't Wisconsin's style. Yes, this year's Badgers are able to go up-tempo better than any other Bo Ryan squad, but they can't sustain a back-and-forth, frantic pace for 40 minutes. Keeping today's game in the half court, both offensively and defensively, will heavily favor what Wisconsin wants to do, and I think it really is the only way the Badgers can win.
This key somewhat incorporates the fact Wisconsin has to play great transition defense this evening, which has been a weakness at times this season. Oregon is not a team that wants to execute half court offense, so if the Badgers can get back and force the Ducks to do just that, then Wisconsin's chances of winning dramatically increase. Plus, much of Oregon's half court offense revolves around isolation plays for leading scorer Joseph Young, who can really score but who will also be defended by Gasser. I'll take my chances with Gass any day of the week.
Look back to our first key for Wisconsin has to do in its half court offense.
Keep the Ducks off the offensive glass
Oregon is not a great rebounding team, but the Ducks have picked up their offensive rebounding late in the season. They finished the year with the third-best offensive rebound percentage mark in the Pac-12, corralling a third of their missed shots (32.8 percent).
We've seen Wisconsin struggle to rebound against more athletic teams numerous times the past few years, and Oregon certainly fits the billing of a more athletic team. The Badgers have to find a way to clean the glass because allowing the Ducks to get too many second chance looks will come back to haunt them. And the more chances Oregon gets offensively, the more likely it is the Ducks find a rhythm.
Offensive rebounds also tend to result in open three-point looks, and the Ducks can stroke it from behind the arc. Oregon made 249 threes during the regular season, good for the second most in the Pac-12. If the Ducks are burying shots from behind the parabola tonight, then Wisconsin's season will come to an end sooner than it should.
Prediction: I've had this happen a couple of times this year, where my head says to pick against the Badgers but my heart says to go with them. That's where I stand today. The Ducks are a very good team playing very good basketball, and after watching them the other day, they scare me. However, I just think this Wisconsin team has something in it-an intangible quality-that won't allow for a third round exit. Bucky finds a way. Wisconsin 79, Oregon 75.