Ahead of Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and Florida Gators, we asked Andy Hutchins from Alligator Army, SB Nation’s Florida site, to preview the matchup from the opposing side. Tipoff is set for approximately 8:59 p.m. CT on TBS from Madison Square Garden in New York City. The full Sweet 16 TV schedule is included at the bottom of this article.
What was the initial reaction to Florida drawing Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, and not Villanova as I’m assuming many of you were anticipating?
I think it was a mixture of relief and surprise that quickly gave way to respect. Obviously, Wisconsin’s not quite as battle-tested as Villanova, though it’s close, and the Wildcats had the better season leading into the NCAA tournament, but what the Badgers did in knocking off the defending champions was impressive—and welcome, seeing as it preserved Florida’s status as the only program to repeat in the men’s Division I tournament this century.
That said, I think Florida fans recall that Wisconsin was there in the 2014 Final Four, too, and that Wisconsin beat what would become one of the most successful Gators outfits ever early in that season, even if it was a pale imitation of what that team became. This isn’t a team that Florida fans are overlooking.
Can you summarize Florida’s season for Wisconsin fans? What were the highs and lows, and most prevalent themes? How did Florida’s regular season compare to preseason expectations?
It went from going essentially as predicted, with Florida impressing in a non-conference schedule played almost entirely away from home during renovations to the O’Connell Center and losing only to Gonzaga, Duke, and Florida State before New Year’s, to going better than predicted, as the Gators clicked off a nine-game winning streak in the midst of SEC play that featured an annihilation of Kentucky, to an injury to big man John Egbunu and a 1-3 skid at season’s end having Florida going down the tubes, to hear the pessimists tell it. Now, with two resounding NCAA tournament wins to their name, the Gators seem to have once again exceeded expectations.
I think most Florida fans thought this team would make the NCAA tournament, but did not expect a No. 4 seed, SEC contention, or a Sweet 16 trip—things that I, a notorious optimist and true believer when it came to Florida’s statistical profile being better than its record over the last two years, was and am less surprised by. I think this team has beaten the majority of the fan base’s expectations, but mine were a little rosier than most, especially given how Florida bolted from the gate last fall, and I genuinely can’t say I’d be surprised by a Final Four berth at this juncture.
How do you think Florida matches up with Wisconsin?
Defensively, I think that depends largely on how fouls get called inside, as Florida doesn’t have the bulk to defend both Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes for 40 minutes without getting deep into foul trouble, and on how hot Bronson Koenig is. One of Happ or Hayes will probably always have an advantage on a single defender not named Kevarrius Hayes in the post, whether that’s the slightly-built Justin Leon or the tartare-raw Gorjok Gak, so I wouldn’t mind seeing some quick doubles by Florida’s ultra-quick wings, but I think the Gators are probably more prone to conceding a 20-point night to one of those two than they are Koenig, as Kasey Hill will probably be tasked with jetting around screens and sticking with him to prevent him from launching too many threes, something the Gators’ senior point guard has done very well.
Offensively, I’m not sure anyone on Wisconsin’s roster can keep up with Hill or Chris Chiozza—precious few players can—and I think that the Badgers’ somewhat porous perimeter defense could doom either team, with Florida’s bad and old habit of falling in love with the three capable of either raining down hellfire or leaving the Gators in a hold. Florida might struggle to score inside, but it can get its shots outside: The question is whether they will go in.
Do you have a prediction for the game? Do you think most Gators fans have similar expectations?
I think Florida wins a relatively close game played in the 60s or the low 70s, and I think a lot of Florida fans are as or more bullish about that than I am. Florida just eviscerated a defense-oriented and painfully slow team in Virginia, and while the Badgers and Cavaliers obviously run different systems—and it's a stretch to call Wisconsin “defense-oriented,” despite what this team has done defensively—the Gators’ execution against the Virginia defense and their own discipline on that end are reasons to believe fervently in this Florida team at this moment.
2017 Sweet 16 TV Schedule
|Game||Date||Tip Time (ET)||Network||Site||Commentators|
|Game||Date||Tip Time (ET)||Network||Site||Commentators|
|(3) Oregon Ducks vs. (7) Michigan Wolverines||March 23||7:09 p.m.||CBS||Kansas City||Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller / Dan Bonner / Dana Jacobson|
|(1) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (4) West Virginia Mountaineers||March 23||7:39 p.m.||TBS||San Jose||Brian Anderson / Chris Webber / Lewis Johnson|
|(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (4) Purdue Boilermakers||March 23||Approx. 9:29 p.m.||CBS||Kansas City||Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller / Dan Bonner / Dana Jacobson|
|(11) Xavier Musketeers vs. (2) Arizona Wildcats||March 23||Approx. 10:09 p.m.||TBS||San Jose||Brian Anderson / Chris Webber / Lewis Johnson|
|(1) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (4) Butler Bulldogs||March 24||7:09 p.m.||CBS||Memphis||Jim Nantz / Grant Hill / Bill Raftery / Tracy Wolfson|
|(3) Baylor Bears vs. (7) South Carolina Gamecocks||March 24||7:29 p.m.||TBS||New York City||Verne Lundquist / Jim Spanarkel / Allie LaForce|
|(3) UCLA Bruins vs. (2) Kentucky Wildcats||March 24||Approx. 9:39 p.m.||CBS||Memphis||Jim Nantz / Grant Hill / Bill Raftery / Tracy Wolfson|
|(8) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (4) Florida Gators||March 24||Approx. 9:59 p.m.||TBS||New York City||Verne Lundquist / Jim Spanarkel / Allie LaForce|