Wisconsin Badgers forward Steven Crowl had a career night in the team’s 81-62 first-round win over the Bradley Braves in the NIT, scoring 36 points on 12/16 shooting, while securing nine rebounds.
After a poor showing in the Big Ten tournament against Ohio State, Crowl looked like his best self against Bradley, consistently looking to be aggressive and utilizing his size advantage to score.
Crowl’s game came after head coach Greg Gard’s comments following Wisconsin’s loss to Ohio State that his big man can be too assertive at times, which clearly wasn't the case on Tuesday.
Now, the focus goes towards the Liberty Flames, who beat the Villanova Wildcats in a close 62-57 contest to advance in the tournament.
The Flames are a strong offensive team, averaging over 75 points per game, spearheaded by Darius McGhee, who scores 22.6 points per game on near-45% efficiency, while hitting almost 40% of his threes.
However, the Flames have a serious flaw: not a single player on their team stands over 6’9 tall.
Additionally, both of Liberty’s 6’9 players, Blake Preston and Bryson Spell, play 17 and three minutes respectively, meaning the Flames have relied on a small-ball lineup all season long.
In their matchup against Villanova earlier this week, the Flames allowed 10 offensive rebounds, despite the Wildcats not utilizing a single player over 6’8 during the game.
That’ll be different when Liberty visits Wisconsin on Sunday, as Steven Crowl stands at 7’0 tall and has been involved significantly when the Badgers have a size advantage, as seen in their wins over Bradley and Minnesota recently.
Rebounding has been an issue for the Badgers at times this season, but in a matchup where their size is favored, Wisconsin should look to rely on Crowl early and often to establish a strong interior presence on Sunday.
As a result, not only should Wisconsin control the paint, but they can earn several opportunities at the free throw line, where they shot 23/28 on Tuesday when focusing on the interior.
In a season with such offensive woes, the Badgers have a clear advantage in a similar way that they did on Tuesday against Bradley: the size advantage with Steven Crowl.
They have to use it in order to move forward in the NIT on Sunday.