(5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Ole Miss
(5) Wisconsin Badgers
Hailing from the viciously tough Big 10 once again are the Badgers (23-11,12-6), who are making their 15th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Bo Ryan hasn’t put together that streak with explosive offensive teams who look to outscore their opponents night in and night out. He’s done it with the opposite, putting together squads that play as tenacious defense as any team in the country. This year’s squad is no different, with nobody averaging more than 12 points a game. Senior big man Jared Berggren leads the way offensively with 11.5 a night, with Ben Brust just behind him at 11.3. The Badgers win with their defense, which allowed just 56 points a night on 39 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from three against the 20th toughest schedule in the country. They were an even 7-7 against the RPI top 50, but picked up notable wins against Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, three teams with far more weapons offensively. While the Badgers’ defensive pressure will overwhelm most, they will have to avoid prolonged offensive droughts in order to keep their two-year streak of getting to the Sweet 16 intact, or advance further.
(12) Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels (26-8, 12-6) were firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but they won the SEC Conference Tournament Championship to guarantee themselves a spot in the field of 68 for the first time since 2002 and the seventh time in school history. The Rebels have one of the best scorers in the country in junior guard Marshall Hederson, who scores 20 on average. He has plenty of help, though, with four other Rebels averaging more than eight. Murphy Holloway is second on the team in scoring (14.4) and leads them in rebounding (9.6). Their defense, which was not always a strength of theirs throughout the season, really stepped up over the final four games. With how explosive they are offensively they don’t have to be a defensive juggernaut in the tournament, they just have to play well enough on that end to where it doesn’t negate what they can do on the other. The Rebels are 12 years removed from their last victory in the tournament, but that streak appears to be in serious danger considering how they closed the year out and how difficult they are to keep pace with offensively.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Wisconsin. The Rebels will put up a fight, but the Badgers have shut down better offenses and will give them fits defensively.