It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
7. Wisconsin (20-12, 12-6/Big Ten)–It’s been a turbulent year in Madison. First, legendary head coach Bo Ryan stunned fans by announcing before the season that he’d retire at the end of the year. Then, even more stunningly, he stepped down for good in December.
New head coach Greg Gard had to rally the troops quickly, and he did–turning a team whose season was going nowhere (the Badgers lost to Western Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Northwestern), into one of the hottest in the nation. Wisconsin entered the Big Ten tournament winners of 11 of 12, although they did bow out in the first round at the hands of lowly Nebraska.
This group isn’t nearly as talented as the one that reached the national title game last year, but it’s improved all season. Forward Nigel Hayes has emerged as one of the best players in the Big Ten, averaging 16.3 points. 5.8 boards and 3 assists per game. Bronson Koening has stepped up like upperclassmen in this program always do, averaging 13.4 points per, and freshman Ethan Happ (12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has given the Badgers a big lift as well.
Don’t sleep on this group–a second-round matchup with Xavier would be very interesting, and not something the Musketeers are going to look forward to.
64.6 points allowed (26th)
10. Pittsburgh (21-11, 9-9/ACC)–Jamie Dixon’s Panthers have fallen on somewhat hard times of late. This program isn’t rolling like it was when it was contending for Big East titles and hearing its name in the conversation for No. 1 seeds and Final Fours. It looked like Pittsburgh might be on the upswing this season, until a lackluster finish to the year that included losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech stemmed optimism.
Still, this group has the potential to make an NCAA run. 6-9 junior forward Michael Young is Pittsburgh-tough, and he can fill it up at times (16 ppg, 7 rpg). 6-7 forward Jamel Artis (14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and 6-3 senior guard James Robinson (10.3 ppg, 5.1 apg) are tough to handle. The Panthers defend and rebound well, and they’ve been one of the nation’s most unselfish teams, ranking 14th nationally in assists.
67.9 points allowed (79th)
16.9 assists per game (14th)
PREDICTION: After some early growing pains, Wisconsin has rebounded to become the program we all knew and loved under Bo Ryan. This group has more tournament experience than either Pittsburgh or Xavier, and that means a lot in March. We think the Badgers will make a run to the Sweet 16, where they’ll be edged out by West Virginia and its pressure defense.