Wisconsin vs. Florida 2/24
At Madison Square Garden, New York City
Point-spread: Florida -1
The Badgers: (27-9)
Good: Beat Villanova 65-62 in Buffalo
Bad: Lost home games to Northwestern and Iowa
Wisconsin struggled through February but has suddenly won five of six, including the 65-62 decision over #1 Villanova. This is the only team in the country to be in the last four Sweet 16’s and has a togetherness which is unique to this tournament. It’s a team that was a preseason favorite to do big things but somewhat underperformed… until now. The teams best player is 6’10 sophomore Ethan Happ; the cagey center shoots 58% from the floor and is the clear statistical leader. Seniors, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter are the heart and soul of the team. This group is going to be incredibly difficult to beat if the game is tight in the closing minutes.
The Gators: (26-8)
Good: Beat Kentucky by 22 in Gainesville and Virginia by 26 in Orlando
Bad: Lost to Vanderbilt three times
Florida has been one of the best stories in college basketball this season. 2nd-year coach Mike White has put the Gators back in the national conversation. Early in the season, it became obvious that this group was elite on the defensive end. It has maintained the defensive intensity, while turning into an outstanding offensive unit as well. The Gators have played without big-man John Egbunu (out for season) for 10 games now… they took the potentially devastating news in stride and have continued to improve since. It’s likely they will miss him against the Badgers elite front line. That said, Florida has plenty of length and is one of the most formidable defensive units in college basketball.
It ultimately comes down to how Florida shoots the ball from the outside. The Gators have been solid from the perimeter throughout the second half of the season… they struggled in the first-half against East Tennessee State but have consistently knocked down shots since. The biggest vulnerability of the Badgers is their speed defending the perimeter. Florida has lighting quick guards and will create open looks. On the other hand, Wisconsin has terrific players on the interior and will certainly challenge the toughness of the Gator big men. You have to like the grit and experience of the Badgers if it’s close in the final eight minutes but more than likely, the Gators will have created separation by then.