The second of the East Region’s Sweet 16 matchups on Friday is not one many people expected to see. As a No. 4 seed, some projected to see Florida advance to play in Madison Square Garden, but not necessarily No. 8 Wisconsin.
In one of the bigger upsets in this year’s NCAA Tournament so far, the Badgers defeated overall No. 1 seed Villanova 65-62 last weekend to advance to their fourth straight Sweet 16. After finishing the regular season second in the Big Ten, Wisconsin and many others felt the Badgers were mis-seeded by the selection committee and they certainly didn’t hurt their case with the big win over the defending national champions.
Florida has been one of the most impressive teams in the Tournament as the Gators dominated No. 5 Virginia 65-39 in the round of 32 last weekend. In the first round, they beat No. 13 East Tennessee State 80-65.
East Region: No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (27-9) vs. No. 4 Florida Gators (26-8)
When: 9:59 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Madison Square Garden (New York City)
Line: Florida -2
Keys for Wisconsin
The Wisconsin game plan against Florida is simple – play good defense, slow the game down and create turnovers. The Badgers need forward Nigel Hayes to have an impact game in the Garden.
In the win against Villanova, Hayes scored 19 points and pulled down eight rebounds. In five postseason games this season, Hayes is averaging 15.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
Wisconsin also needs leading scorer Bronson Koenig to continue his hot shooting. After hitting eight three-pointers against Virginia Tech in the first round, Koenig had 17 points in the upset of Villanova.
Keys for Florida
Against Virginia, Florida might have put forth its best defensive effort of the season, holding the Cavaliers to just 39 points. Virginia shot a meager 29.6 percent from the field overall and made just one of its 15 three-point attempts (6.7 percent). Even though the Cavaliers aren’t known for their offense, it was still an impressive performance by the Gators.
Florida will need to continue to defend the three-point line against Wisconsin. The Gators also need to try to take advantage of their depth and speed. They are balanced on offense with four players – KeVaughn Allen, Canyon Berry, Devin Robinson and Kasey Hill – that are capable of coming up with points at any given time.
On paper, Florida appears to have the advantage because of greater depth and more talent spread across the roster. However, Wisconsin is playing its best basketball of the season and this is a veteran, NCAA Tournament-tested team.
Wisconsin allows 61.8 points per game, which was first in the Big Ten. If the Badgers can hold the Gators to around that total, they should be in good shape. Expect Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig to remain hot and the Badgers to play good enough defense to win this Friday night Garden party.
Prediction Wisconsin 69, Florida 66
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of @GatorsMBK)