This matchup is interesting for a number of reasons and not just because it’s the 8 vs. 9 and Big Ten vs. ACC. But even in the 8 vs. 9 matchup, the Badgers were seen as early -5.5 points favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook. The Badgers are such big favorites because they not only finished as the second-best team in the Big Ten in the regular season, but also went to the Conference Tournament championship Game. Instead, they’re being rated as the fifth-best team out of the Big Ten by the NCAA committee, making Vegas mark them as decent-sized favorites.
To go with that, Wisconsin is filled with seniors and Tournament experience. In previous ACC matchups this season, they lost to UNC 71-56 on a neutral cOurt and beat Syracuse 77-60 in Madison. Virginia Tech won at Michigan 73-70 and beat Nebraska on a neutral cOurt 66-53. But again, these Games were back in November so it’s hard to put too much into them. Wisconsin struggled a bit at the end of the regular season, yet still made it to the Big Ten championship Game after handling Indiana and Northwestern. The Hokies have been off-and-on all season before beating Wake in the ACC Tournament and then losing to Florida State.
The matchup to focus on will be how successful Virginia Tech’s offense can be against Wisconsin’s defense. The Hokies have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, but the Badgers are one of the best defensively. Their main route of attack is through Zach LeDay, but Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ will be a difficult matchup. As long as LeDay isn’t making shots from the outside, it’s going to be extremely tough for him to have his usual success against Happ. But if that’s an issue, Virginia Tech still has a slew of scorers to turn to with Four guys having made at least 50 threes this season.
If the Hokies are to win, that’s exactly how they’ll do it. Seth Allen, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs and Ty OUtlaw can all hit shots, while Justin Robinson is less of a shooter and more of a facilitator. Wisconsin plays great defense, but there’s no stopping a team that can hit shots, which is exactly how Michigan beat the Badgers in the Big Ten title Game. And if Virginia tech can score, it’s going to be a difficult Game for Wisconsin because it really only has three consistent performers on the offensive end.
Happ’s main role will be forcing LeDay to play defense and grabbing offensive boards against a bad defensive rebounding team. With Happ down low, Nigel Hayes should also have a plus-matchup against whoever guards him. Virginia Tech may have to go a little bigger at times giving Khadim Sy minutes against Happ. against teams that can Scoredown low, Virginia Tech has been hit-or-miss this season, splitting with Wake Forest and losing bad to UNC. But even in non-Conference against the bigger Texas A&M, the Hokies had issues.
On the surface, this looks like a great spot for Virginia Tech to at least cover, but the experience of Wisconsin can’t be overlooked, nor can the duo of Hayes and Happ down low against whatever Tech has. Of course, all of this was said without the mention of Bronson Koenig, who is one of the most clutch players in college basketball.
Our Pick – Virginia Tech +5.5