What a game. What stood out most to you during Wisconsin’s upset of Villanova?
Owen Riese: Contrary to what this fan base will tell you and what you'll read on the twitter dot com, Nigel Hayes is in fact very good at basketball, and actually not bad. Hayes carried this team while Koenig was on the bench. Invaluable senior leadership.
Jon Beidelschies: Vitto Brown finally playing like Vitto Brown. It’s been a rough year for the senior, but the Badgers don’t win this game without him. He hit a couple of threes in the first half and then closed out the second half with the biggest defensive play of the game and a clutch free throw to put the Badgers up three. He played as good a game as he has all year.
Dylan Paris: Hayes was the star no doubt, but I’ll shine some much-needed respect on the Badgers’ defense. They held a team averaging 78 points per game to just 62 on 41 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from three. Nova’s offensive rebounding marks were boosted by lucky bounces off Badger hands, and Wisconsin forced them into tough mid-range jumpers in the first half. When they figured out that the Badgers couldn’t handle their relentless drives to the rim in the second half, Wisconsin adjusted and held them to just five points in the final five minutes. Showalter, Hayes and Happ played their usual great defense, but Vitto Brown’s defensive play on Hart’s final drive shouldn’t be forgotten.
Neal Olson: Hayes and Koenig no doubt deserve a ton of credit for their end-of-game performances, but really the entire senior class all played major roles. Vitto started out with a couple of big threes, plus the big tie up on Jalen Brunson on Villanova’s final possession. Showy was all over the court per usual, highlighted by that emphatic block flying over from the weak side.
These four will have attended two Final Fours and two Sweet Sixteens during their time in Madison. Without question a championship level effort against a really good team. Just a shame it was a Round of 32 game.
What was the play or plays of the game?
Owen: Koenig hitting that fall away three on that curl was absolutely huge. That shot and then a low-key smart move by Hayes and Vitto to crowd the rebound on the missed FT at the end to not allow a shot.
Jon: Hayes and Koenig not fouling out? With the way the officials called this game (until the last five minutes or so) it’s a minor miracle that both players were on the floor at the end of the game. Happ was there at the end for the big defensive stop (with Vitto Brown) and the whole tenor of the game changes if D’Mitrik Trice is the point in the last two minutes.
Dylan: Huge offensively was Ethan Happ’s drive from the wing for a floater with 2:30 to go that got the Badgers the lead back. Then two defensive possessions in the final minute or so. First, with Hayes locked in on Hart, he drove to the left block, tried to stop and spin but ended up traveling as Happ crashed in for the help. Second, the aforementioned Hart drive was directly at Happ, who stuck with him like a glove as Brown’s gangly arms reached in to snag the ball away.
Neal: Prior to Koenig’s three that Owen mentioned, Hayes had a series of missed/blocked layups and offensive rebounds. Bronson was standing alone in the right corner, pleading with Hayes to kick it out. He WANTED that shot. After Hayes got an offensive rebound and Wisconsin called a timeout, I knew Koenig was going to hit a big shot. For all the good basketball players that have come through Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan/Greg Gard era, never has a player sought out and hit so many clutch end-game shots like Koenig.
GAME BALLS: Who gets MVP odds for the first two rounds?
Owen: Hayes and Koenig probably have to split it, I’d think. Koenig carried the team on Thursday, and Hayes was huge against Villanova.
Jon: KOENIG. He shot the lights out of the gym on Thursday. They don’t advance without him. His shooting on the outside opened up things down low on Saturday for Happ and Hayes early on. Wisconsin really struggled when he was not on the floor in the second half against ‘Nova.
Dylan: Hayes had an all-time game, but was still invisible and not aggressive enough on certain possessions. Koenig gets the nod for me after putting the team on his back on Thursday and having 17 points in the win over Villanova. He wasn’t plagued by fouls in the first half so he carried the offense—note the offense’s ineptitude when Trice was playing in his place in the second half—by driving to the hoop and hitting jumpers, including the patented end-of-half jumper.
Neal: I honestly don’t know how you can choose between Hayes and Koenig. The Badgers certainly aren’t playing next weekend without both of their contributions. Koenig pretty much carried the team with his outside shooting against Virginia Tech, while Hayes refused to let the team collapse against Villanova when Happ and Koenig were sidelined with foul trouble.
LOOKING AHEAD: What will the Badgers have to do against Florida? How far will this team go?
Owen: I think the biggest thing will be limiting the scoring droughts. This team will do enough defensively, but they can't keep pinning their backs against the wall and depending on Koenig heaving in contested 27-footers.
Jon: The sky’s the limit. If the team shoots 58 percent or something horrible from the line, they’re toast. If they shoot 23 percent from three, they’re toast. If they play like they played against Va Tech and ‘Nova, they can hang with anyone. It’s a senior-heavy team that can beat you in the post or from three. It’s also a team that can play itself out of any game with a 20 percent shooting stretch from the floor. <Shrugs shoulders> Your guess is as good as mine. Strap in and hang on for the ride.
Dylan: They have to keep playing strong defense, but more important will be the offense sticking to an inside-outside game. There were stretches in the Villanova game where they were content to pass around the perimeter and take a contested jumper —Koenig’s the only player capable of doing that consistently. Happ and Hayes need to really fight for position inside, and the perimeter guys need to work even harder to feed them against mismatches or if their defender is in foul trouble.
Neal: Trying to approach this without too much commentary on the officiating. But Wisconsin has to find a way to stay out of foul trouble. Happ in particular has spent most of the first halves of both tournament games next to Gard. They simply cannot continue to face large stretches of a game in a “hold the fort” mode while starters are in foul trouble.
Villanova’s guards were able to pressure the Badgers’ into a few uncharacteristic turnovers and Florida (third in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency) is going to be more of the same. Along the same lines, Florida has some dynamic guards that will prove challenging to keep out of the paint on dribble drive. If Wisconsin can withstand those attacks and manage the foul situation, they stand a solid chance to survive and advance.
Bottom line is Wisconsin has more tournament experience than just about any other team left. A talented team, possibly peaking at the right time... buckle up. I have a feeling Koenig, Hayes and the Badgers have a few more moments to add to their legacy.