There are 16 “Round of 32” games on Saturday and Sunday as the most exciting weekend of the sports calendar continues. As we always do every March here at MSF, we try to cover you with previews, informed and reasoned predictions, and pertinent viewing info as soon as we can get it posted.
In this post, we preview the East Region’s second round matchup between #4 seed Wisconsin and the 5th-seeded SEC Tournament champion Vanderbilt Commodores.
Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Game Info
- Seeds & Region: #4 Wisconsin v #5 Vanderbilt in East Region
- Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Date: Saturday, 3/17
- Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Tip Time: 6:10 ET
- Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Location: Albuquerque
- Wisconsin-Vanderbilt TV: TNT
- Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Announcers: Spero Dedes and Bob Wenzel
- Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Point Spread: Vanderbilt -1.5
- Tickets: Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Tickets
- Tickets: East Regional Tickets in Boston
Wisconsin-Vanderbilt Analysis and Prediction
In yet another chalky matchup, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt will face off in the second round on Saturday. The Badgers routed Montana behind 10-of-19 three-point shooting and 17 points, eight rebounds, and six assists from Jordan Taylor. Vanderbilt nearly blew a healthy lead but hung on to beat Harvard by nine. Sharpshooter John Jenkins scored 27 points to lead the Commordores, who made 8-of-18 from long range.
With both teams highly ranked in both offensive and defensive efficiency, this has all the makings of a close game.
When the Badgers are on offense, don’t expect many turnovers, because they rarely commit them and Vandy rarely forces them. Ultimately the key will be Wisconsin’s three-point shooting. For the year, the Badgers are shooting over 36 percent from beyond the arc, but perhaps more importantly, they take over 40 percent of their shots from long range. However, the Commodores rank 28th in three-point defense at 30.7 percent. If there is one factor that will decide this game, that’s it.
As has become the norm, Wisconsin’s defense is among the best in the country. The Badgers are in the Top 10 in both two- and three-point defense, but Vandy shoots about 39 percent from three-point land so something has to give. The Commodores also make nearly 51 percent of their twos.
Outside of that, the free throw battle should be interesting as well. Vanderbilt has a free throw rate just under 40, but Wisconsin holds its opponents under 30. Again, something has to give.
From a pure matchup standpoint, a few different ones stand out. First, how do the Badgers defend John Jenkins, who is terrific at moving without the ball? He’s a guy Wisconsin just can’t allow to get rolling. The other one is Jeffery Taylor and Ryan Evans, as both guys are seniors who are playing well and contributing in a number of different areas. Throw in a big man matchup between Festus Ezeli and Jared Berggren, and there’s a lot to look forward to in this game.
At some point, Wisconsin’s reliance on the three-point shot is going to catch up with them, and against a team that has defended the three well seems like a good place for that to happen. Vandy avoided pulling a Vandy in the first round, so between that and the SEC Tournament, the Commodores should come into this one with some confidence.
Predicted Winner: Vanderbilt
Wisconsin Badgers Team Capsule
- Conference: Big Ten
- Record: 24-9 (12-6 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 6-4
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 6-7
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: BYU, Indiana (2), Ohio State, Purdue, UNLV
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Marquette, Michigan, Michigan State (3), North Carolina, Ohio State
- Player to Watch: Jordan Taylor (G, Sr.) – 14.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.0
Wisconsin Bottoms Line:
As has become customary, the Badgers are among the most efficient teams on the defensive end. They rank in the Top 10 in both two- and three-point defense and in the Top 50 in defensive rebounding percentage and opponents’ free throw rate. The team has struggled on offense at times, because they are very reliant on the three-point shot. The Badgers take just over 40 percent of their shots from long range, but the common theme in most of their losses has been poor three-point shooting. With a low offensive rebounding percentage and a poor free throw rate, there really isn’t a plan B when shots aren’t falling.
Despite leading the team in scoring and assists, Jordan Taylor’s season has been somewhat of a disappointment. His shooting has dropped off, and the lack of a consistent offensive threat like Jon Leuer has made it difficult for him to find room to operate. Still, his assist and turnover rates are still impressive, and he has continued to find ways to get to the free throw line. Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren both average better than 10 points and five rebounds, with Evans particularly effective on the defensive glass and Berggren able to step outside and hit threes. Josh Gasser and Ben Brust are capable long-range shooters as well, and Mike Bruesewitz has struggled with his shot but still helps out on the glass.
As usual, the Badgers are content to slow the game down and limit the number of possessions, so don’t expect them to light up the scoreboard anytime soon.
Vanderbilt Commodores Team Capsule
- Conference: SEC
- Record: 24-10 (10-6 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 7-3
- Record vs. Tournament Teams:
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Alabama, Davidson, Florida, Kentucky, Marquette, North Carolina State
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Florida, Kentucky (2), Louisville, Xavier
- Player to Watch: John Jenkins (6’4” G, Jr.) – 19.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 44.8 3P%
Vanderbilt Bottoms Line:
The win over Kentucky was arguably the biggest of the Kevin Stallings era at Vanderbilt, and the Commodores are now being touted as a sleeper Final Four pick based on a number of the predictions I’ve seen so far. While they are certainly playing better of late, this is still a team that has not tasted post-season success in recent years. That being said, they are a tough matchup for opposing defense.
Led by sharpshooter John Jenkins, the Commodores can light it up from beyond the arc and rank 15th in effective field goal percentage. They also do a decent job of getting to the free throw line, but they are in the middle of the pack in turnover rate and offensive rebounding percentage. On defense, Vandy keeps its opponents off the foul line and limits three-pointers, but there are some question marks in other areas.
Five players do the bulk of the scoring for the Commodores, with John Jenkins leading the way with nearly 20 points per game. Jeffery Taylor is a tough matchup based on his versatility, and he’s had a strong senior season. He’s hitting over 43 percent from long range and can defend multiple positions. Big man Festus Ezeli has been limited because of injury, but he gives the team a strong presence in the low post. He has impressive rebounding percentages on both ends and has posted an outstanding 80.1 free throw rate. At the point, Brad Tinsley has a high assist rate and also shoots 40 percent from deep.
Defense and depth are concerns as the Commodores set out to shed the label of tournament underachievers, but their confidence will never be higher after upsetting the Wildcats on Sunday.
Related: Jump to our East Region Bracket Breakdown