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March Madness

College Basketball Pick


Villanova knew it was going to have a tough match in its second game of the tournament no matter who it played, but the under-seeded Wisconsin probably wasn’t the hope. Expected to be a 7-seed or even a 6-seed by some, the Badgers meet with the No. 1 overall team in the NCAA tournament in the Round of 32. The Wildcats opened as -5.5 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the game in Buffalo.

Villanova was tested in its first game and was even down for most of the first half against Mount St. Mary’s, but eventually pulled through for a 20-point win. Record-wise, the Wildcats are the same team as a year ago, but there’s a noticeable difference on the roster without a true big man like Daniel Ochefu. Instead, they have to use an unconventional lineup with Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds forced to guard bigger guys than a year ago. While that has worked for most of the season, they’ve had a number of close matchups from the win at Purdue or the one against Virginia. That strength down low is going to be tested against Wisconsin with Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes around the basket.

The Badgers got an incredible game out of Bronson Koenig (eight made threes) in the first round, but it was also Hayes they turned to when they needed a basket. With both of those guys down low and Hayes seemingly playing much closer to the hoop than during the regular season, ‘Nova will have a tough test. Obviously, the Wildcats will double team plenty in their zone, but Hayes and Happ are both great passers out of the post. Wisconsin doesn’t have the best shooters, but Koenig will have to be accounted for with Zak Showalter, D’Mitrik Trice and Vitto Brown all able to hit shots if it comes to it.

The other end will be plenty interesting as well and given the slow nature of Wisconsin’s play, Villanova will have to be efficient. The Badgers were beat up a bit down low against Virginia Tech, but ‘Nova doesn’t really have that. Instead, the Wildcats often have five guys on the court that can shoot (outside of Reynolds), which means Happ could find himself in a different defensive position than normal. Elsewhere, Koenig, Showalter and Trice will all have big tasks on the defensive end.

Josh Hart is up for player of the year for a reason as not only is he the best three-point shooter on the team, but he can almost always get any shot he wants. Not far behind him is Jalen Brunson, who can take over when Hart wants or break or he can’t get anything going. Villanova has the more-balanced team, better scorers, shooters and playmakers, but how much will their size deficiency hurt them?

Given Wisconsin’s experience, this is the type of game that the Badgers could stick around in most of the way, especially if Hayes and Happ are having success down low. And if it comes down to the final couple minutes, there aren’t many better than Koenig in the clutch. Villanova has the better team, but will need to put all of that on display to win in the second round.

Our Pick - Wisconsin +5.5

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