Through four combined wins so far in the 2016 NCAA Tournament No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 6 Wisconsin have outscored their opponents by a total of 15 points. These programs just have a knack for getting it done in March, as well as a flair for the dramatic.
Each team is coming off of a game-winning shot in their respective second round matchup. Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger tipped home a rebound with 1.5 seconds left to beat upset-minded Stephen F. Austin, while Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig drained a fadeaway three-pointer as time expired to send No. 2 Xavier home. Are more fireworks to be expected in the Sweet 16?
No. 7 Wisconsin (22-12) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (23-11)
When: 7:27 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)
Line: Notre Dame -1
Keys for Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s defense has been stout thus far in the NCAA Tournament, and as long as the Badgers can score enough points to stay close they have a chance to pull out every game in the final minutes. New head coach Greg Gard has done an incredible job turning this team into a legitimate contender after a sloppy start to the season (9-9). Gard needs a lengthy scouting report on Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste in order to keep his first Tournament run alive. Additionally, Nigel Hayes desperately needs to snap out of his shooting funk (5-for-27, 18.5 percent in first two games), as he creates a problem for the Notre Dame defense when his shots are falling.
Keys for Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish and head coach Mike Brey have had a remarkable run the previous two NCAA Tournaments. The experience that this veteran group gained in 2015 will be the key to them advancing even further this year. Auguste is now a legitimate beast in the low post, and his NBA Draft stock has to be on the rise following consecutive double-double outings. He will once again be the man against a Wisconsin team that is without a bona fide big to keep him in check. If Auguste can get Badgers freshman Ethan Happ in foul trouble early by taking it to him on low block, the senior may be due for another huge outing.
The one certainty about this matchup is that it is not going to be an easy victory for either side. Both teams will have to work extra hard to get open looks at the basket. Whichever team fights harder for loose balls and second chance opportunities will come out on top. Be sure to tune in for at least the final minutes of this tilt, as late-game heroics are pretty much guaranteed.
Prediction: Notre Dame 64, Wisconsin 62
(Stefan Jankovic photo courtesy of Getty Images)