NCAA Tournament Picks: Better Offense Suggests Backing Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin

Ross Benjamin

Thursday, March 24, 2016 12:55 PM UTC

Thursday, Mar. 24, 2016 12:55 PM UTC

Our NCAA Basketball analyst continues covering the NCAA Tournament East Region. Go inside to find out his NCAA Basketball pick for Friday’s game between Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

#7 Wisconsin vs. #7 Notre Dame 7:27 PM ET
In an unlikely “Sweet 16” matchup, Wisconsin and Notre Dame will square off in an East Regional Semifinal game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Friday. Current NCAA Tournament odds at most sportsbooks have Notre Dame as a 1-point favorite, and the posted total is 131.5. Wisconsin and Notre Dame have taken similar paths in reaching this point of the tournament. Each overcame a double digit halftime deficit during first round victories, and both won on last second buckets in round two games. The winner of this contest will move on to the Regional Final to play either top seed North Carolina or #5 Indiana.


Plenty of Coffee Required to Watch Wisconsin
If you are looking for up tempo basketball and an exciting game to watch, then I’d advise this isn’t the game to tune into. Watching Wisconsin play is the easiest way for a college basketball fan to cure insomnia. If you choose to put yourself through the agony, then I suggest making a pot of some very strong coffee in order to stay awake. However, despite my obvious dislike for their style of play, the Badgers win much more than they lose.

Wisconsin is adept at slowing the pace of games down. They often use a vast majority of time on the 30 second shot clock, and in doing so, minimizes the number of offensive possessions by their opponents. They’ve been to “The Final Four” in each of the past two years, and lost to Duke in the 2015 National Championship Game. It’s hard to argue with success, and if it’s not broke, then why the heck would you bother to fix it.


Deceiving Defensive Numbers
Wisconsin ranks 18th nationally in scoring defense at 63.9 points per game. That number is quite deceiving and has more to do with their deliberate offensive style as opposed to stifling defensive play. That’s not to suggest Wisconsin isn’t a good defensive team, but when you allow so few points per contest, we’re usually discussing elite status. Wisconsin has held opponents to an extremely low 51 field goal attempts per game this season, and allowed them to shoot just 42.8%. Conversely, the Badgers have averaged a mere 62.6 points scored per game in its last five outings, and shot less than 40%.

Despite none of their previous ten games having a total of greater than 137.5, Wisconsin has seen nine of those contests stay under the number. Their first round 47-43 win over Pittsburgh was one of the most difficult NCAA Tournament games to watch for unbiased fans in recent memory. As a matter of fact, Wisconsin trailed at halftime of that contest 26-16, and it was the fewest points scored in the first half by one team in NCAA Tournament history.


Golden Opportunity for “The Irish”
Notre Dame is one win away from advancing to the “Elite 8” for a second year in a row. Getting to this point of the tournament was hardly a breeze for “The Irish. They came back from a 12 point deficit at the half to defeat Michigan 70-63 in first round action. Then against #14 seed Stephen F. Austin in round two, Notre Dame had a successful offensive put back with just 1.5 seconds to play, and escaped with a 76-75 win. The luck of the Irish certainly is applicable to their NCAA Tournament thus far with no pun intended. They were able to avoid #3 seed West Virginia last Sunday, in addition to a matchup with #2 seed Xavier on Friday, and that was due to both those teams falling victim to an upset at the hands of a lower seed. The question now becomes, can Notre Dame take advantage of their good fortunes on Friday against an opponent that’s also been just as lucky as they are good?


Final Take
This is an extremely tough call from my perspective. Wisconsin is a very disciplined and poised team which has gone 13-3 during its last sixteen games. They’ve overcome the adversity of seeing its veteran head coach Bo Ryan abruptly retire in December after a rough start to the season. They were 9-9 at one point, while also beginning Big Ten play by going 1-4, and then proceeded to win eleven of its next twelve games. This Wisconsin team undoubtedly possesses a ton of character and is a very resilient bunch.

I don’t think even the most ardent fans of Notre Dame expected their team to be playing in a Regional Semifinal. That was especially apparent after they were lambasted 78-47 by North Carolina in the ACC Conference Tournament. Expectations have certainly skyrocketed since the North Carolina debacle, and it’s now just a matter of maintaining their composure on Friday against a very beatable opponent.

Notre Dame has more offensive options than Wisconsin, and I’ll have a slight lean as a result when making one of my Friday NCAA Tournament picks.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Notre Dame -1
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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