The second-seeded Wisconsin Badgers narrowly avoided another March Madness upset against the no. 7 seed Oregon Ducks with an 85-77 victory to advance to the round of 16. The two went down to the wire and it was late sharp shooting from the Badgers that turned away Oregon and its thrilling transition game.
The Badgers return to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time, adding to the program’s rich tournament history. In twenty March Madness appearances, Wisconsin has also reached the Elite 8 three times, the Final Four twice, and won the National Championship once. Now in his sixteenth year as head coach, Bo Ryan willed his troops to the victory. Wisconsin trailed by 12 points at the half and seemed unable to match the Ducks ferocious fast-break style and scorching 55.6 percent first half shooting. The Badgers flipped the switch in the second, however, outscoring Oregon 48-28 and going up for good behind junior F Frank Kaminsky’s three-point bucket with 1:07 left on the clock.
Wisconsin was able to narrowly avoid the March Madness upset against Oregon by overcoming a brilliant performance from junior Ducks G Joseph Young, who scored a game-high 29 points on 10 of 19 from the field. While Oregon cooled off in the second, the Badgers heated up and the two sides nearly matched each other statistically in the end. Wisconsin connected on 48.3 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from outside the arc, while allowing the Ducks to shoot 49.0 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from distance. Wisconsin struggled from the foul line, converting just 16 of 25 to their opponents 21 of 23, but finished with a plus ten advantage on the boards.
The Badgers now await the winner of no. 6 Baylor vs. no. 3 Creighton. The more favorable March Madness matchup would be against the smaller and slower of the two, which would be Creighton. But the Blue Jays boast the nation’s top scorer in 6-8 F Doug McDermott, who averaged 27.0 ppg on the season and shoots at a 45.5 percent clip from outside the arc. McDermott’s scoring totals are downright scary. He had one game all season in which he did not score in double-figures, dropped 20 or more in 29 games and 30 or more 13 times. Outside of McDermott, though, Creighton does not bring much more. Just one other player, senior F Ethan Wragge, averaged double-figures in scoring and at 10.5 ppg, he did so just barely.
Baylor, on the flip side, could present some matchup problems. There is 7-1 Isaiah Austin and when the sophomore C is on his game, getting anything past him in the low post is a tough proposition. Austin had 19 games with three or more blocks and sent back 12 in two different outings against Oklahoma State and Iowa State, and 10 against Southern. Then there is 6-9 leading scorer Corey Jefferson to worry about. The senior F scored 16 in the second round against Nebraska and he’s averaging 15 points and 9.8 rebounds in his last five games. And if that’s not enough, there is also three-point marksman Brady Heslip to try and contain. The senior G has a penchant for putting up threes from anywhere on the floor and at 46.1 percent from beyond the arc, he’s a serious threat.
Regardless of their next March Madness opponent, Wisconsin narrowly avoiding the upset, as they did against Wisconsin, can’t happen again. This isn’t a team that cannot get up and down the floor and score in transition that easily. They are better suited to a half court game, so a better first half than they had against Oregon is an absolute must.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat