Let's start with Pitt. What will it take for the Badgers to beat Pittsburgh, and do you think they pull out a win?
Curt Hogg: I'll start by saying that the two teams share some similarities, but I think Wisconsin has the edge going into the game. Over the last two months, Pittsburgh has been inconsistent at best. The Panthers have only won consecutive games once since January 9 and lost to NC State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Clemson; on the other hand, though, they beat Syracuse three times and took down Duke three weeks back.
I don't believe the Badgers will look as flat as they did against Nebraska. What is a concern, though, is Pitt's offensive rebounding and depth. The Panthers rebound 37.4 percent of their missed shots, which is an interesting match up with Wisconsin. The Badgers allowed opponents to grab over 30 percent of misses in conference play.
As they tend to do, Wisconsin will limit Pitt's three-point and free throw attempts. Forward Michael Young is the best player on the Panthers and grabs nine percent of misses for offensive boards, but it's the depth where they become an elite offensive rebounding team. Four bench players, all sized between 6'8" and 6'9", all grab between 10 and 15 percent of offensive rebounds. To continue on the train of depth, Pitt has nine players that play over 25 percent of minutes with an offensive rating over 110.0. That's pretty solid, given that the Badgers only have two.
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What to know about Pitt
Pittsburgh hasn't lived up to expectations of late but remains a formidable blue-collar program that will provide a worthy challenge even as a No. 10 seed. The Panthers' similarities to Wisconsin are plentiful.
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That said, I still like Wisconsin to win. They have the best defense of the four teams in the region playing in St. Louis, Nigel Hayes is the best player on the floor against Pitt and the Badgers counter Young with one of the Big Ten's best defenders in Ethan Happ.
Phil Mitten: First of all, the Badgers need to play with some energy. I think the players all realize how pathetic it was that they cowered away from Nebraska's pressure in the Big Ten tournament. But Wisconsin come out with no energy. Against Pitt the Badgers will need to come out with some urgency, win loose balls, etc. I'm looking at you Zak Showalter, that is your lane.
Secondly, Bronson Koenig needs to play well. Wisconsin is so much better when Koenig is aggressive, hunting and hitting shots. Koenig is pretty much the only three-point assassin on the team, so it would help if he acts accordingly.
Finally, Wisconsin needs to hit free throws. I anticipate a close game where both teams struggle to score at times, but UW should be able to cause some problems with Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ.
How much do you think that experience helps in the NCAA tournament? Will the Badgers relative lack of experience play any role of importance?
Curt: I think it is of some unquantifiable importance, but is probably overstated. Wisconsin has Hayes and Bronson Koenig with two years' worth of Final Four runs in them, so that is plenty of tourney experience. Outside of that, it's a matter of just not getting overwhelmed by the stage. These guys have shown their ability to win in tough environments, so I don't have any concerns in that regard.
Phil: I think experience does play a role in the NCAA tournament, but more so in the later rounds when kids are playing in huge football stadiums. Even guys like Showalter, Vitto Brown and Jordan Hill, while they had not played many meaningful minutes prior to this season, had the physical experience of running out into a packed stadium and sizing up a formidable opponent whom they'd never faced before. Having those "reps" in their back pocket certainly doesn't hurt. By that measure, I don't think Wisconsin is any less experienced than Pittsburgh, a team that missed the tournament entirely last year. Between Hayes and Koenig, the Badgers have experienced studs, just like the Panthers do in James Robinson, Michael Young and Jamel Artis.
What does Wisconsin have to do in order to make a run in the tournament? How far will they go?
Curt: The Badgers will have to play a complete game, and that starts in the second round and runs all the way through the tournament. Shots have to fall, perimeter defense cannot be a liability, they have to get strong looks down low and play inside-out, limit turnovers and avoid foul trouble. All possible, but easier said than done.
I have Wisconsin beating Pittsburgh and bowing out somewhere after. I won't say where I have them losing, because I don't need Hayes calling me out in a presser for my terrible bracket picks.
Phil: To put it plainly, Wisconsin needs to make shots. We have seen what this team is capable of when they do make their outside shots and put teams away at the free throw line. The Badgers can be very good. Even if they don't catch fire, at least making their layups and avoiding huge scoring droughts will go a long way. Wisconsin's first few potential opponents won't play a drastically different style of basketball, but if and when UW runs into a faster-paced team it cannot afford any of those silly defensive lapses in transition.
Honestly, I have Wisconsin beating Pitt, then losing to Xavier. Just because of how impressed I've been with the Musketeers all season. They really check all the boxes you want out of a Final Four contender.