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Sweet 16: Badgers, Bulldogs rise to the occasion

If you are a Wisconsin fan, there is a lot to like about how Butler handles its business. Both programs recruit tough players, play smart rather than flashy, and are well-coached. However, the mutual respect that is running rampant right now will not keep either side from doing all it can to earn a trip to the Elite Eight tonight in New Orleans.

On Tuesday we looked at how a few of the younger players have stepped forward for Wisconsin. Today, I wanted to highlight how well the No. 4 seed Badgers (25-8) and No. 8 seed Bulldogs (25-9) have been playing in the tournament according to tempo-free statistics.

After passing the eye test with two wins, the numbers back up the notion that Wisconsin is hitting its stride. Can the same be said of Butler? At one point, the Bulldogs had lost four of their last five in conference play and were 14-9. The Horizon League tourney champs have reeled off 11 straight wins since then.

A few numbers off the top -- a glimpse at similarities between the teams' shooting:

Shooting TPPP
Team eFG% 3P% 2P% 3PA/FGA 3Pt 2Pt Differential (%) Status
Butler 51.0 36.2 49.1 37.6 1.086 0.982 0.104 (10%) Smart
Wisconsin 52.3 37.9 49.2 40.8 1.137 0.984 0.153 (13%) Smart

Wisconsin Badgers

Let's look at what Wisconsin did in the Big Ten. The Badgers scored about 1.2 points per possession (PPP) while holding opponents to 1.09 PPP. They did it at one of the slowest paces in the country, averaging just 56.2 possessions per game against league foes. Wisconsin posted an effective field goal (eFG) percentage of 52.4, turned the ball over just 11.6% of the time and allowed offensive rebounds to opponents on only 26.7% of their conference possessions.

In the tournament, UW made its already stellar offense even more efficient, scoring 1.23 PPP against Belmont and Kansas State. This despite turning the ball over more on average (a 15.7% TO rate).

Though Jacob Pullen torched the Badgers, they still sit at 1.07 for defensive efficiency in the two games. Wisconsin's eFG% was sky high versus Belmont and just below its Big Ten average against the Wildcats. Wisconsin has allowed offensive rebounds on 25.4% of opponents' possessions.

At 57.5 possessions per game, UW's tournament games have been played at a pace right in their wheelhouse. The increased efficiency can be partly explained by a sizable increase in production from the free throw line. Over a quarter (27.5%) of Wisconsin's point have come from the line, as opposed to less than one fifth of its points during the Big Ten slate.

Poss. Off. PPP Def. PPP eFG% OReb% DReb% FTRate TO%
Big Ten Avg. 56.2 119.9 109.4 52.4 30.6 73.3 29.3% 11.6
Belmont 59 122.0 98.3 65.0 27.3 81.8 62.5% 22.0
Kansas State 56 125.0 116.1 51.0 31.2 66.7 46.0% 8.9

Butler Bulldogs

While the Bulldogs played its games in the Horizon at a much faster tempo than Wisconsin does, they were by no means speedy at 64 possessions per game. And Butler is proving they can thrive in even slower games, which may negate one of UW's advantages.

Butler is playing at a 58.5-possession pace in the NCAAs. Brad Stevens' squad has been equally efficient on offense in the tournament as it was during conference play against lesser competition. That has been a must because Butler allowed 1.09 PPP combined against Old Dominion and Pittsburgh after surrendering only 1.02 PPP in the Horizon League.

The Bulldogs have remained steady in the turnover and eFG% departments on average, although they have fluctuated in their shooting between rounds one and two. Butler's games are featuring a lot of offensive rebounds. The team is giving up a much higher percentage (39.2%) on defense than usual while gathering a few more themselves (35.4%) on offense.

So what is Butler doing better? First of all, keep in mind that the Bulldogs have played tougher competition as the lower seed than the Badgers have. Which means they are probably doing several things better that are not showing up as clearly in the statistics. Secondly, Butler is raining 3-pointers, led by Shelvin Mack. The Bulldogs are getting 43.5% of their scoring from 3-point range on 19-of-53 shooting, whereas only 31.1% of their points came from long distance during the conference season.

Poss. Off. PPP Def. PPP eFG% OReb% DReb% FTRate TO%
Horizon Avg. 64.0 111.2 101.7 53.0 33.3 73.0 34.6% 17.7
Old Dominion 58 103.4 100.0 47.2 52.9 51.9 20.4% 25.9
Pittsburgh 59 120.3 118.6 57.7 16.1 70.8 26.9% 10.2