This may be the 6- against the 7-seed, but it features two teams familiar to this position. Both Wisconsin and Notre Dame were in this spot last year, and the Badgers have been in the Final 4 the last two years. That experience has been key in winning late Games for Wisconsin, but the Irish are the slight favorites in this one.
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Nothing has been easy for these teams in their first two Games. Notre Dame came back from a 12-point deficit in the first round then won via a tip-in in the second round against Stephen F. Austin. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been much different for Wisconsin, who won its first Game just 47-43, and then got some late-Game heroics from Bronson Koenig with two late and extremely difficult threes to beat Xavier 63-60.
Needless to say, these teams have been in some exciting Games, and the spread is predicting another one to go down to the wire.
Notre Dame is known for its efficient and balanced offense, while Wisconsin is more of the grind-it-out defensive team that wins even when its offense struggles.
The Fighting Irish don’t have much depth, but they have balance and have five guys that average double digits. One of those is guard Matt Farrell, who has taken up a much bigger role with the team over the last couple weeks. Farrell played 31 minutes against Stephen F. Austin after averaging just 12.3 on the season. As a guy that only scored 2.3 points per Game, to get eight out of him last Game was huge and his shot has enough confidence that he can do that again.
But this Irish team runs through Zach Auguste, who had 16 points and 15 boards last Game and point guard Demetrious Jackson who had 18 points. Jackson is the go-to guy at end of Games, while Auguste is a slippery big man that can deal with anyone that defends him. That matchup will go to either Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ in this Game, both of which are solid players. Zak Showalter may have the biggest defensive role, as he’ll be expected to defend Jackson on the other end. If he can frustrate the speedy Jackson at all, that’ll give Wisconsin an edge.
Notre Dame still has a few other players that can have big Games when needed. V.J. Beachem dropped 15 points last Game and is the Irish’s best three-point shooter, while Steve Vasturia will likely be called upon to defend Bronson Koenig.
On the other end, sooner or later Nigel Hayes has to show up. The junior power forward has been struggling mightily in the last three Games, shooting 7-of-42 from the field and 0-for-17 from 3. With those numbers, it’s hard to see how the Badgers have actually won Games because Hayes is their leading scorer. And yet, other guys have come through. Koenig hasn’t been playing all that well himself, but when you hit six threes in a Game as he did against Xavier, that doesn’t matter. Freshman Ethan Happ has 33 points in the last two Games and he’ll possibly draw Auguste on the other end. Happ’s goal will be to get Auguste in foul trouble as that’s been a problem for Auguste throughout his career. Vitto Brown has also been a good role player through the last month for the Badgers as he continues to knock down shots from deep.
This is an even matchup, but it’s hard to see Wisconsin winning if Hayes continues to struggle from the field. He just hasn’t found his shot in the Tournament and if that continues, they won’t advance. While the Badgers have a great defense, Notre Dame’s offense is too efficient to be dragged down by a team with its leading scorer failing to make shots. Then again, that may not matter. We saw these teams’ first two Games and this one could easily end with a buzzer beater as well.
Our Pick – Notre Dame -1