Ivy League Champs hardly a 12-seed
It's safe to say the NCAA selection committee doesn't always get the seeds right.
Just ask fifth-seed Temple. The Owls found out the hard way Friday that Cornell, which won its third straight Ivy League Championship this season, was a much better than your average 12 seed. For most of the game, the Big Red looked like a five seed and Temple looked like the 12.
UTEP, Richmond, and Utah State all received at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament. Cornell likely would not have received an at-large bid if it had not won the Ivy League, which is the only league that does not have a conference tournament. But at 28-4 and coming off a beatdown of the Temple Owls, is there any doubt that Cornell is better team than any of those at-large teams?
The Big Red features a number of guards that can kill you from deep, a 6-7 senior forward who was the Ivy League Player of the Year and a 7-foot center who weighs 260 pounds. Cornell runs an inside-out offense that is so effective because everyone on the team passes the ball so well. At times Friday, Temple's players looked lost trying to find the ball. And that's exactly why a team labeled as a "three-point shooting team" is shooting 57 percent from the field on the season. The Big Red gets so many easy buckets as a result of great passing against defenses that are worried about guarding the perimeter.
All of this is not good news for the Badgers. They don't matchup well against Cornell, especially because Wisconsin has been in a horrid shooting slump as of late. UW nearly beat Illinois despite not being able to throw the ball into an ocean in the Big Ten Tournament and it survived a first-round scare from Wofford only because the Terriers went 1-of-7 from the free throw line in the second half. If the Badgers don't make shots against Cornell, they will get run out of Jacksonville and will never want to return.
Keys to the Game
Go through Jon Leuer. On the possession where Leuer hit the game-winner against Wofford, it appeared Trevon Hughes finally realized that Leuer is the best player on the team. After Hughes threw up that terrible hanging 16-foot jumper, UW was able to get a second chance by grabbing the offensive rebound and this time Hughes pentrated and found Leuer instead of forcing another shot. Leuer had that look in his eyes at the end of the game. He wasn't going to lose. It was similar to the look I saw in Evan Turner's eyes in Indianapolis last week. When a talented player has that look, it's a scary thing. No one else on the Badgers has that look right now and UW is only going to go as far as he takes them.
Cornell has 7-footer Jeff Foote, who will cause UW problems when he has the ball, but at 260 pounds, he won't be able to stay with Leuer. Every offensive possession should go through UW's big man. If Foote can't guard Leuer, Cornell will likely have to go with 6-9 forward Mark Coury, who doesn't play a whole lot. The bottom line is that Leuer should be able to get to the rim again and with the way the Badgers have shot of late, there's no excuse for not exploiting the Big Red's matchup problems with the junior forward.
- Rebound the basketball. There were a number of embarassing stats from Friday's game against Wofford. The Badgers only had three assists. They only shot 63 percent from the free throw line. They had zero blocks against a small team that doesn't shoot threes. But none of those stats were as embarassing as getting out-rebounded 37-30 by a small team. Cornell doesn't miss very often and when they do, UW better not be giving up offensive rebounds. As you can tell from the chart above, Cornell is a better offensive rebounding team than Wisconsin, but the Badgers have been one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country all season. They need to keep that trend going Sunday or their season will be over.
Contain Ryan Wittman. Few players in the NCAA Tournament were as impressive as the Ivy League's Player of the Year in the first round. Wittman's father Randy played in the NBA and Ryan thinks he can follow in his father's footsteps. Based on what I saw Friday, I could see him making an NBA roster, but the problem is that no one knows who he is. Nothing like a Sweet 16 appearance for an unknown mid-major star to get the NBA scouts to come calling ... ahem, Stephen Curry.
Wittman presents a bit of a problem for the Badgers because of his size. He's somewhat similar to Northwestern's John Shurna because he's 6-7, but can kill you from outside while also being able to put the ball on the ground. We saw what Shurna did to Tim Jarmusz, who is really the only guard/forward with similar size to Wittman. I expect Bo Ryan to use a variety of different defenders on him. Ryan Evans did a good job against Duke's Kyle Singler who is a similar player, but I would like to see Jordan Taylor stuck on Wittman. He will be giving up a lot of size, but he's such a great defender off the ball that he can keep Wittman from getting touches. Cornell's leading scorer hit 4-of-6 threes against Temple and scored 20 points. UW can't let him do that Sunday.
It is also crucial that Jason Bohannon gets out of his shooting slump. Much of his struggles can be credited to opposing defenses neutralizing him and don't expect Cornell to let up on him. If there is one huge advantage the Badgers have in this game, however, it's on defense. The Big Red allows 63 points per game and that is against relatively weak Ivy League opponents. Wisconsin will get open looks. It's just a matter of finally knocking them down.
Finally, we have to mention point guard Louis Dale, who scored 21 points against Temple. Quite frankly, I'm not too worried about him. At times he was reckless with the basketball (five turnovers) and forced some shots. The Owls weren't able to take advantage of those mistakes, but UW's defensive thief, Trevon Hughes, will likely be guarding Dale. The Badgers thrive on those kind of mistakes by their opponent.
Cornell 72, Wisconsin 65. I absolutely hate this matchup. Against Wofford, you saw what can happen when the opponent gets hot, even when you are a great defensive team like Wisconsin. The Big Red is playing with so much confidence right now and they seem to be hitting every shot. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is in a deep shooting slump and until Bohannon has a breakout game, that will continue. Foote is an impressive 7-footer and if he gets Leuer and/or Nankivil in foul trouble, that's exactly what the Badgers will be in... trouble. A Sweet 16 matchup against Kentucky would be great, but unfortunately, I think we have another Davidson on our hands. Hot opponent, wrong time. Cornell wins.