#10 Pittsburgh (21-11) vs #7 Wisconsin (20-12)
When: Friday, March 18th 2016
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO
Time: 6:50 ET | TV: TNT
The Wisconsin Badgers’ quest for a third-straight Final Four appearance begins tonight against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin’s season didn’t start out all that well and the sudden resignation of head coach Bo Ryan left the Badgers’ fans wondering what the season would look like. Greg Gard, who is in his 16th season at Wisconsin, took over for his mentor and proceeded to loose four of his first six games at the helm. Wisconsin started 1-4 in the Big Ten, but turned things around quickly and the Badgers won 11 of their next 12 before dropping their last two prior to Selection Sunday. Gard did such a great job with this team that he was awarded a five-year contract with the team on March 8th. Wisconsin finished 12-6 in the Big Ten – tied for third – but bowed out in the second round of the conference tournament to Nebraska 70-58. Junior forward Nigel Hayes (16.3 points per game) and junior guard Bronson Koenig (13.4), the two starters remaining from last season’s national championship game loss to Duke, are the team’s leading scorers. Freshman forward Ethan Happ is averaging 12.7 points and a team-most 7.8 rebounds.
Pittsburgh is making its 13th trip to the Big Dance in the last 15 years after missing out a year ago with a 19-15 record. “It means a lot to make the tournament knowing where we were last year,” senior guard James Robinson said in a Pittsburgh news release Sunday. With 10.3 points per game, Robinson joins forwards Michael Young (16.0) and Jamel Artis (14.4) as the only other double-digit scorers for the Panthers, who finished ninth in the ACC with a 9-9 record and were ousted by top-seeded North Carolina 88-71 in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Sheldon Jeter has given the Panthers a lift off the bench recently, scoring in double-figures in three of the last five games including 13 on 5-of-6 shooting against the Tar Heels. The Panthers ended the season losing three of their last four contests and of their nine conference victories, only two came against teams that made the tournament (Duke, Notre Dame). Two teams ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings (Clemson and Virginia Tech) failed to make the tournament. The Panthers do not guard the three-point line very well, allowing opponents to shoot 35.6% – good for 244th in the country.
Wisconsin is just a better overall team right now and Pittsburgh’s lack of quality wins worries me heading into this tournament. The Badgers might not make it back to the Final Four this year, but they should be able to get by the Panthers today.
Pick: Wisconsin -2