#13 Belmont (30-4) vs. #4 Wisconsin (23-8)
Betting Line: Wisconsin -4.5 o/u 126
The 13th-seeded Belmont Bruins (30-4) bring a 12-Game winning streak into their Southeast Region first-round matchup with the Fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (23-8) in the NCAA Tournament at the McKale Center in Tucson on Thursday. The Atlantic Sun champions have also lost only once in their last 22 Games and are back in the Big Dance for the first time since giving Duke a major scare in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history as 20-point underdogs against the Blue Devils but fell just short in a 71-70 loss. They have not returned to the Big Dance until now and hope Cinderella’s slipper fits this time around when they square off against the Badgers (-4.5).
Wisconsin has dropped two in a row, including an ugly 36-33 decision to Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament last Friday. The Badgers were 7.5-point favorites in that Game and entered the Tourney as the #3 seed. They shot just 29.4 percent from the field, including a brutal 2 of 21 attempts from 3-point range. Jordan Taylor led Wisconsin in the loss with 16 points on 7 of 21 shooting and made 1 of 7 attempts from beyond the arc.
The team had won eight of nine before getting crushed 93-65 at Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Wisconsin’s defense was as bad as it was good against the Nittany Lions, allowing the Buckeyes to connect on 14 of their 15 3-point attempts to set an NCAA record. The Badgers saw six of their last seven regular-season Games go OVER the total, which is a bit surprising considering they are known for being a defensive-oriented team.
Belmont certainly likes to score, setting up an interesting contrast in styles. The Bruins average 80.4 points per Game but saw six of their 11 lined Games go UNDER the total. One of those UNDERs was a 66-65 loss at Tennessee back on December 23. The Volunteers figured out a way to slow them down, building a 35-23 halftime lead before converting the Game-winning shot with seven seconds remaining.
Wisconsin was blown out by a Cornell team that loved to run in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, 87-69. The Badgers topped Wofford 53-49 in their first-round Game but trailed the Big Red 43-31 at halftime en route to losing as 4.5-point favorites.
Don’t expect Belmont to sneak up on anyone after their near upset of Duke last time around. Also expect a big effort from Wisky after getting blown out in their last apeparance.
Predicted SCore: Wisconsin 75 Belmont 51