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A Wisconsin Badgers guide to the Villanova Wildcats

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Wisconsin advanced out of the Round of 64 thanks to seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. However, all that means is a date with the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament — Villanova.

It might be the most difficult test the Badgers have faced since taking on fellow No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving week. That game didn’t end so well for the Badgers, but this is March and not the end of November.

Villanova is also a wholly unfamiliar opponent for the Badgers program, having played just one other time in Dick Bennett’s debut as the head coach at UW.

So, just who are the defending national champions? Can the Badgers stand up against what is arguably the best team in the country? Let’s find out more about the Wildcats.

Resume

Overall Record: 32-3
Big East Record: 15-3
RPI: 1 *
SOS: 25 *
RPI Top 25 Record: 3-2
RPI Top 50 Record: 12-2
RPI Top 100 Record: 17-3
KenPom: 2 **
Notable wins: at Purdue, vs. Wake Forest (neutral court), vs. Notre Dame, at Creighton, vs. Virginia
Notable losses: twice to Butler, at Marquette 
Last 12: 11-1
Neutral Court Record: 9-0

*according to realtimerpi.com
**according to KenPom.com

Strengths

1. Defense

Villanova knows how to win a championship and the hallmark of the program is its defensive effort. It’s no coincidence that the 2017 Big East champions led the league in scoring defense at 62.6 points per game. The Wildcats also hold opponents to just 41.6 percent from the field, which was also tops in the Big East.

Oh, and Wisconsin’s suddenly hot three-point shooting? Well, Villanova has held opponents to 31.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

This group also has held 22 of its opponents under 65 points this season. There’s little doubt that Villanova’s defensive effort isn’t lacking and it is a major sticking point in this game.

2. Offensive Efficiency

Villanova is a scary offensive team, and much like the Badgers they generate a lot of their offense thanks to the work done at the other end of the court. But, just how dangerous is the Wildcats offense this season? According to KenPom.com, this is the No. 2 ranked team in Adjusted Offense in the country.

They get there by averaging a crazy 77.5 point per game, which also has led to a plus-15.6 scoring margin on the season. Lest you think it is all about volume for the Wildcats to get there, they are one of the most dangerous shooting teams in the country. Villanova is shooting 49.8 percent from the field on the season and 37 percent from beyond the arc.

3. Multiple Scoring Threats

Teams that get to the level Villanova has been at the past three years don’t do it with just one person pulling the string offensively. VU’s production on the offensive end of the court comes in a very efficient manner. It’s no coincidence that having four players scoring in double figures also helps Villanova rank fourth in offensive efficiency this season.

Josh Hart is the leader of the offense, averaging 18.7 points per game, but he isn’t the only dangerous scorer. Jalen Brunson averages 14.8, Kris Jenkins hits at 13.3 and Mikal Bridges rounds out the double-digit scorers at 10.0 points per game.

There’s even a double-double threat off the bench, as Donte DiVincenzo went for 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Round of 64 win on Thursday.

Scoring weapons clearly abound for the Wildcats.

Weaknesses

When you are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament there really aren’t a whole lot in the way of weaknesses. Even if you want to nitpick on stats there are plenty of counter arguments.

That is certainly the case when you look at Nova’s rebounding statistics, as they rank middle of the pack in the Big East in offensive rebounds. Perhaps there is an advantage there for the Badgers to expose. However,

We did find one weakness though, and that was Villanova’s second-half offense vs. Wisconsin’s second half offense. The Wildcats are just +5.9 per game on the season in the second half, while the Badgers are +6.8 and are ranked ninth in the country in that category.

If Wisconsin wants to win this game, keeping it close heading in to halftime and playing the spirited ball we usually see out of the intermission will be key. Saying that is easy, doing it has been less so. However, in the three losses, Villanova has been out-scored in the second half by an average of 13.3 points.

That certainly seems like a weakness against a Badgers team that has been very good defensively all season long and even better on the offensive end of the court for most of the year.

 

Players to Know

Josh Hart: As we mentioned before, Hart is the Wildcats’ leading scorer, averaging 18.7 points per game. However, the 6-5 guard also averages a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game. His size and ability with the ball make him a matchup nightmare compared to what the Badgers have in the backcourt. Just take a look at what he did against Purdue.

Kris Jenkins: One guard that is 6-5 is hard enough to handle, but Villanova also throws a 6-6, 235 pound forward who plays more like a guard in Jenkins. He’s not only second on the team in scoring with 13.3 points, but also adds 4.2 rebounds per game and shoots 36 percent from beyond the arc as well. He stretches defenses, and Wisconsin may not be much different.

Coach’s Corner

Is there a hotter name in college basketball coaching than Jay Wright? He is at the helm of a Villanova program that just one its first national title last year and has dropped just three games all season this year.

He’s compiled a 386-160 record in his 16 seasons at Villanova. Most impressively, his Wildcats haven’t lost more than 5 games in each of the last four seasons.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class

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Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.

First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.

The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.

“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.

“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”

But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.

Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.

Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.

The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.

Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.

With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.

Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.

It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.

Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.

It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.

Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.

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Badgers Basketball

Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class

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It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.

A day after forward Steven Crowl committed, we now have word that top target Ben Carlson, a fellow Minnesota native, has committed to the Badgers as well.

The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.

Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.

Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.

He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.

It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.

“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”

“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”

Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.

It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.

Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class

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What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.

He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.

Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.

However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.

Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.

This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.

While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.

The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.

With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.

When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.

However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.

It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.

He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.

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Badgers Basketball

Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks

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They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.

Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.

Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.

Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.

In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.

This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.

As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.

Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.

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