Bo Ryan and the 5-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (23-11, 12-6 B1G) start their NCAA Tournament journey Friday afternoon as they take on the red hot 12-seeded Rebels of Ole Miss (26-8, 12-6 SEC) from the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The game is set to tip-off at 11:40 AM CT time with TV coverage on TruTV.
Ole Miss enters the tournament as one of the nation's hottest teams. The Rebels have won 5 straight games and are coming off their SEC Tournament Championship. They defeated 3-seeded Florida (who blew out Wisconsin by 18 early in the season) 66-63 in Sunday's championship game.
Ole Miss plays an up-tempo, athletic style of ball. They favor the transition game and they often hike up shots early in the shot clock. They have a number of shooters who surround the perimeter as well as guys who can take it to the hoop. While outside shooting is a main component of the Rebel's offense, they also have a few players who can
The Rebels have caught some headlines recently thanks to their egotistical, trash-talking Guard, Marshall Henderson. While the Junior is mostly known for his extraneous comments on the court, he has the game to back it up. Henderson has an almost unlimited range, and hits his biggest shots when the game is on the line. Leading the SEC this season averaging 20.1 points and almost 4 three pointers a game, Henderson will certainly be a main point of emphasis for the Badger defense.
While Henderson has the ability to take over a game and determine it's outcome, he often hits dry spells in which the Ole Miss offense struggles immensely. After all, Henderson shoots just 38.5% from the field and 35.7% from three, so the guy is human. It's going to be fun to see how Henderson reacts when/if he hits a big shot, as he's been known to taunt opposing fanbases with his antics.
Ole Miss is anchored by their Senior Big Man duo (somewhat similar to Wisconsin's) of 6'7" Murphy Holloway and 6'9" Reginald Buckner. Though both undersized, Holloway and Buckner get the job done inside, averaging a combined 17 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.
Ole Miss plays mostly a 2-3 defense, which Wisconsin should have no problem picking apart, especially with Ryan Evans' recent emergence as a passer out of the post. However, when the Badgers face zone defenses, they seem to rely on outside shooting- a dependence that has killed them numerous times this season. It will be interesting to see how the Badgers' shot selection develops throughout the game against the Ole Miss zone.
Keys to the Game
The most important aspect of this game is on the defensive side of the ball. We all have no doubts that Bo Ryan has come up with an ingenious scheme to go against Marshall Henderson and company. The key for the Badgers is execution. All it takes is a little opening for Henderson to operate and kill you. Wisconsin needs to play 40 minutes of tough defense to ensure a victory.
Wisconsin should easily be able to dictate the pace of this game. Bo Ryan's teams are known for slowing down the tempo and making fast-paced teams play Wisconsin ball. That should be no different against Ole Miss, who relies on transition and quick shots. If the Badgers can slow the tempo way down and get Ole Miss out of their comfort zone early, it could be a blowout win for UW.
Though Ole Miss is an extremely dangerous team that is certainly capable of beating the Badgers, I think Bo Ryan will have his guys well prepared for the task at hand. Wisconsin will shoot the ball well, Marshall Henderson will have a quiet game, and the Badgers will advance to round three of the NCAA Tournament.
Prediction: #5 Wisconsin 65, #12 Ole Miss 52