The Wisconsin Badgers head into Sunday night's NCAA tournament Round of 32 game against the Xavier Musketeers with mixed levels of confidence following the offensive dud and defensive masterpiece they compiled against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the opening round on Friday.
Offensively, the Badgers left much to be desired. They shot a measly 32.1 percent (17-of-53) from the field and 21.1 percent (4-of-19) from behind the arc. Scarier is the fact that point guard Bronson Koenig scored just two points. The Badgers left a fair share of points on the floor, missing six free throws and several layups they usually make.
Defensively, the Badgers turned in a stellar performance. They clogged the lanes all game, and held the Panthers to 3-of-11 outside shooting. They forced nine turnovers and committed just 11 personal fouls all night. Simply put, if the Badgers can replicate Friday night's defensive showing, they can hang with anyone in the country.
Xavier brings elements to the table that Wisconsin certainly didn't see against Pittsburgh. Trevon Bluiett is an absolute monster at guard, as he uses his 6-6, 207-pound frame to create separation and power through the lane. He averages 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and though he didn't light up the scoreboard against Weber State (10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, five rebounds), he really didn't need to as Xavier won 71-53. It will be essential for the Badgers to keep him in check.
Xavier also has a beast in the frontcourt in 6-10 senior forward James Farr. He supplies the Musketeers with a lot of size and experience, and after a dominant double-double performance vs. Weber State (18 points and 15 rebounds off the bench), he will be a lot to handle for Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown on the interior.
Matchup to watch: Brown vs. Farr
The key positional battle the Badgers need to win in order to leave St. Louis victorious is the big-man battle between Vitto Brown against James Farr. Farr absolutely dominated on Friday night and will be a force reckon with again against Wisconsin. He also added a steal and two blocks in the Round of 64, and it will be important for Brown to draw him out to the perimeter to open the basket up for other Wisconsin players.
X-factor: Koenig's offensive production
It's no secret that the lack of an offensive showing from Koenig was one of the primary reasons the Badgers were not able to break 50 points against Pittsburgh. He was a no-show from behind the arc and wasn't able to get to the free throw line at all. It's imperative that he breaks out of his slump, especially considering how lengthy and disruptive Xavier is.
Prediction: Wisconsin 67, Xavier 66 (OT)
This one is really tough to call, as I can see it falling both ways, One thing I am certain about is that if the Badgers play the way they did on Friday night, they will be heading back to Madison. If they complement another dominant defensive showcase with an improved, more efficient offensive attack, they have the potential to head to the next stage of the tournament. My bet is that this game needs more than 40 minutes, and Wisconsin comes out punching. Badgers move on.