(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Belmont
Coach Bo Ryan’s teams are typically known for their slow pace of play and defensive capabilities and this year’s Wisconsin squad is no exception. The Badgers rank ninth nationally in scoring defense, giving up just north of 59 points per game. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this club is the offensive efficiency and explosiveness it has shown. Wisconsin plays at its traditionally slow pace, but has the ability to score points in bunches, thanks in large part to the play of junior guard Jordan Taylor. The 6-1 dynamo is one of the nation’s premier all-around players, averaging 18.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting .448 from behind the three-point line and leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.26). Forward Jon Leuer leads the team in both scoring (18.9 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg) and has scored in double-figures in every game this season.
Sure, Belmont played one of the softest schedules in the country (the Bruins strength of schedule ranked No. 261) but, regardless, it is extremely tough to win 30 games in a season, something Coach Rick Byrd’s team accomplished when it won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship on March 5. Belmont has eleven players that average more than ten minutes per game, with sophomore guard Ian Clark, a first team All-Atlantic Sun selection, leading the way at 24.6 minutes per contest. This is a very deep and talented team which ranks in the top 20 nationally in seven statistical categories, including scoring margin (18.4; 1st), three-point field goals per game (9.4; 2nd), steals per game (9.7; 2nd) and turnover margin (5.2; 5th). With just one senior on the roster, Belmont is a young team which is equally good offensively and defensively; in transition and in the half court. The Bruins are busy trying on slippers because they are primed to play the role of Cinderella.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Belmont. Belmont can really defend and is comfortable playing any style of basketball and that versatility will lift the Bruins past Wisconsin.