Like he’s done every other year, Bo Ryan has led the Badg to the Big Dance, gaining a 4-seed in the difficult East Region. Traveling to Albuquerque, the Badg face the Montana Grizzlies, winners of the Big Sky conference. Sconnie is currently nine point favorites according to those that know a thing or two about these sort of things – or to put it another way, know how to make money off us. Even as the 4-seed, things won’t be easy for the Badg to make a run in the Big Dance.
Montana comes into this game hot: winning 14 straight and 20 of their last 21. They average 70.6 ppg while giving up 61.7 ppg. Their RPI is 75 and have a “strength” of schedule of 215. Needless to say, they haven’t been pushed too much this season. Conversely, the Badg average 64 ppg and give up just 53 ppg on an absurd 38% shooting percentage – some exciting ball if you ask me! The Badg’s RPI is 22 and had the 18th hardest schedule. Clearly, these stats justify the Badg’s nine-point favorite position.
The game itself will be a battle of wills. The Grizzlies are a fast-paced team and can make it rain from the outside, even with a 7-foot center. Meanwhile, well, there is nothing fast about the Badgers game. They play a slow-it-down game, sporting a defense that is one of the best in the nation. The Grizz will need to establish the pace of play in order to stand a fighting chance. And if the Grizz aren’t making their shots, they will be in trouble because they are one of the worst rebounding teams, averaging a paltry 33 boards per game – good for 249th in the country (yes, that means there are more than 249 Division 1 teams in the country).
On defense, the Badg may see something familiar in their foe. The Grizz are a stout defense that likes to shut down the long-ball. They play a constantly switching, man-to-man system that is aimed at taking away the three-point shot. Of course, the Badg’s swing offense “thrives” on the three-ball. They really don’t have a low-post presence. Berggren can play down there, but often gets caught beyond the arc. The Badg cannot afford to get in an offensive lull like they have been prone to do this season. As the saying goes, defense leads to offense. And if the Badg struggle for a while and give the Grizz some hope, Cinderella may be making an appearance against the Badg in the first round – again (I refuse to call it the second round because what tournament gives 60 teams a first-round bye?!?!).
Prediction: Badgers escape and cover the spread for those that want to know (meaning run to Vegas and bet big on The Grizz covering). Badgers have too much experience and are battle-tested. Don’t get your hopes up though for an exciting Big Dance classic. Given the defensive propensities in these two teams, the game itself will likely be offensive to watch. But, such is Bo Ryan ball at times and the results justify the means.
After taking care of business against Montana, the Badg will become the underdog the rest of the way through the bracket. Assuming they face Vanderbilt, the Badg will be in a dog-fight. Look for a second-round preview when the Badg advance.