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Tuesday, October 03, 2023

NCAA Tournament: Wisconsin Badgers will have to play at own pace to defeat Virginia Tech Hokies

BUFFALO, NY — With blistering winds and constant snowfall, No. 8-seed Wisconsin’s (25-8 overall) trip to Buffalo certainly isn’t the most warm or inviting location for a Spring Break trip.

“It feels like a typical Wisconsin December,” redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter said.

Only now it’s March. And one more Badger loss will send UW home for the winter, spring, summer and fall.

Thursday night’s game against No. 9-seed Virginia Tech (22-10) will thankfully be played indoors. Whatever team dominates the inside will also play big dividends in determining if the Badgers will be heading to the offseason earlier than expected or moving on to face the winner of No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary’s.

In the Hokies’ 7-man rotation, only one player, freshman center Khadim Sy, is taller than 6-foot-7. But Sy averages less than 12 minutes per game and hasn’t played more than ten minutes since March 4.

Instead, Virginia Tech primarily plays with redshirt senior Zach LeDay at the center position. At 6-foot-7, LeDay leads the Hokies in rebounds per game with 7.4. Thursday night, Wisconsin will look to take advantage of Virginia Tech’s small frontline.

“I’m gonna assume they watch film and probably are gonna double,” redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ said. “But if they don’t then Nigel [Hayes] and I are going to try and take advantage of it that way, decisively and with conviction.”

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams didn’t specify Wednesday afternoon how his team plans on defending Happ and Hayes, but he did emphasize how important stopping UW’s star forwards will be.

“I think that will be a constant stress for us,” Williams said. “I don’t know if we have a simple answer, and I don’t know if one answer will suffice. I think we’ll have to do multiple things. Both of those guys are better than our guys, both of them can get you in foul trouble and both of them are very good one-on-one scorers.”

But the impact that Happ, Hayes and senior forward Vitto Brown will look to have Thursday night will come in the form of more than just points. Wisconsin looks to take advantage of a Virginia Tech team that struggles on the glass as well.

The Hokies come in with a negative 2.1 rebounding differential. They give up more than ten offensive rebounds per game and struggle on the defensive glass as well. Wisconsin, on the other hand, was one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the Big Ten this season as they pull in more than 12 per game.

“If we can dominate on the offense and defensive glass I think that will help us,” Happ said.

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But playing big might have a tradeoff for the Badgers: what Wisconsin has in size, they might lack in speed.

Both LeDay and redshirt senior Seth Allen, Virginia Tech’s leading scorers, come off of the bench. When they enter the game, the Hokies look to push the pace and find open threes.

“It’s not all advantageous for us,” Brown said. “Because obviously it means they’re going to be a little bit quicker and we gotta get down and really be ready to move our feet laterally.”

Playing against teams that like to run is nothing new for the Badgers. Wisconsin has faced three of the Big Ten’s quickest teams in Indiana, Iowa and Michigan all in the last two weeks.

To combat Virginia Tech, assistant coach Howard Moore says that UW must play at its normal pace and not speed up.

He adds that finding the post and cutting off-ball when the ball goes inside will be key for the Badgers.

Just like snow throughout the winter months in both Madison and Buffalo, that’s something the Badgers are used to.

“I think that’s something we’ve been doing all year,” Showalter said. “And I think it’s really paid off for us.”

The Badgers tip off against Virginia Tech Thursday at 8:40 p.m. from the KeyBank Center.

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