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Can the Badgers start an NIT run vs Bradley?

The Badgers have a chance at a new beginning. Can they make the most of it?

The Wisconsin Badgers are in uncharted waters, playing in the NIT tournament for the first time since 1996 after missing the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, where they will meet Bradley, who won the regular season title in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Badgers were seen as an on-the-bubble team prior to their entrance at the Big Ten Tournament, but couldn't secure a win on the first day against Ohio State, effectively ending their March Madness chances, which was further seen when Wisconsin wasn't named as one of the “First Four Out”.

Now, with a chance to change the narrative of their season, the Badgers begin their postseason with a home bout against Bradley on Tuesday Night at the Kohl Center.

DraftKings Sportsbook currently lists the Badgers as three-point favorites against Bradley, with an over/under placed at 127 points. Will the Badgers cover the spread?

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.

Here’s what you need to know about the Badgers’ opponent on Tuesday.

Opponent Preview

The Bradley Braves come into this matchup sporting a 25-9 record, including a 16-4 conference record that won them the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title, although they lost in the conference tournament to Drake, leading them to the NIT.

Prior to their loss to Drake, the Braves compiled 12 straight wins, which led them to the MVC title game, and are coming into the matchup with only one win over an NCAA team: Drake themselves.

The Braves are led by forward Rienk Mast, who’s averaged 13.8 points per game on 52.3% from the field and 35.9% from distance.

Sensabaugh is complemented by forwards Malevy Leons and Ja’Shon Henry, who average 11.6 and 9.8 points per game respectively, with the former scoring from all levels at an efficient clip(47.6% overall, 36.6% from three), while the latter scores inside the paint at a 57.8% rate.

The Braves play in a similar style to the Badgers, scoring just over 70 points per game, while limiting opponents to just 62.2 points per game, winning both high and low-scoring games.

Keys to the Game

Steven Crowl: The Braves rely on several forwards for scoring and defense, but not a single player in their top eight of the rotation stands over 6’9 tall.

In comes Steven Crowl, who’s coming off one of his worst games of the year against Ohio State, where he sat for a majority of the second half as the Badgers mounted their comeback.

Crowl may have been still dealing with an ankle injury that saw him in a boot after Wisconsin’s win over the Minnesota Gophers, but after some extra recovery, he should be relied upon in the Badgers’ first NIT matchup.

Against Minnesota, Wisconsin utilized its size advantage to consistently pound the paint, score efficiently, and rebound well, which should be the gameplan again with an undersized Bradley team.

Free throws: Both teams have shot atrociously from the free-throw line in 2022, with the Braves hitting just 66.9% of their attempts, while the Badgers have shot 67.1% from the stripe.

With big-men leading both offensive attacks, there could be a good amount of fouls inside the paint, leading to free-throw attempts on either side.

Additionally, in what should be a relatively close game, free throws could be a deciding factor as teams elect to foul at the end, which the Badgers did struggle a little with at the end of the Minnesota win.

Bradley’s top two scores shoot relatively well from the line, but the remainder of their team, including each of their starting guards, are certainly below-average, posing a tough task.

Meanwhile, the Badgers don’t have a single shooter over 70% at the line outside of Connor Essegian in their regular rotation.

This one could be an ugly one if it gets to the line.

Guard play: Much of the matchup should revolve around the big men on both sides, given Bradley’s involvement of their forwards in their offense, while Wisconsin has a size advantage with Steven Crowl.

However, the little things are as important to the overall flow of the game, and Wisconsin should have the edge in the guard department.

Bradley’s guards, Duke Deen and Connor Hickman, each shoot under 40% from the field, while Deen hits 35.6% of his threes and Hickman hits 34% of his attempts from distance.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn, Connor Essegian, and Max Klesmit, each shoot the three-ball at a near-40% clip, while possessing the ability to attack the rim as well, which evolved as the season went on.

While the bigs likely dictate the game with the offensive approaches of both teams, guard play could be the deciding factor.