Vanderbilt (25-10) vs. Wisconsin (25-9)
Saturday, March 17, 6:10 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Andy Sclight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: The Pit/Bob King Court (15,411) -- Albuquerque, New Mexico. Television: TNT. NCAA Tournament Record: Vanderbilt 10-13, Wisconsin 24-16. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The East Region competition heats up in third-round action, as perennial tournament contender and No. 4 seed Wisconsin squares off against the upstart fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores at The Pit in Albuquerque.
Wisconsin posted the most lopsided win in its NCAA Tournament history Thursday, cruising past 13th-seed Montana with a 73-49 victory. The Badgers' heralded defense did a number on the Grizzlies, holding them to 38.3 percent shooting overall and a mere 29.4-percent mark in the second half. Junior Jared Berggren punctuated those numbers with a career-high seven blocks. UW was up 10 at the break after landing 51.9 percent of its field goals in the first half and drained half of its 12 three-point attempts over the opening stanza, ending 10-of-19 from beyond the arc. Junior Ryan Evans was high man for Wisconsin with 18 points while senior Jordan Taylor stepped up with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Josh Gasser chipped in 12 points as the Badgers moved to 10-1 in opening-round games under head coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin (25-9) earned a No. 4 seed for the third straight year for competing against arguably the toughest conference in the country this year. In fact, the steady Badgers have received a four-seed or higher in four of the last five seasons. Despite UW's longevity in making the field for a 14th consecutive year, it hasn't necessarily translated into the type of success it would like. Wisconsin has reached as far as the Sweet 16 five times and the Elite Eight twice, advancing to the Final Four in 2000 where it fell to Michigan State. The Badgers' only other run to the Final Four in 18 all-time appearances came in 1941 when they captured the program's lone national title. UW fell to Butler in the regional semifinals of last year's tournament.
Vanderbilt turned back a spirited effort from the No. 12 seed Harvard Thursday in taking a 79-70 win. The Commodores turned a page of sorts after being bounced from the field in three straight opening-round contests despite entering as the higher seed. This year's team is as tough a veteran group as there is in the 2012 field, with junior John Jenkins providing Vandy with a game-high 27 points in Thursday's triumph. Senior Brad Tinsley registered 16 points and four assists while Jeffery Taylor netted 15. The steady Commodores shot better than 50.0 percent in both halves and finished with a 54.3-percent accuracy from the floor. Senior Festus Ezeli stepped up as well with a game- best 11 rebounds, four blocks and eight points as Vandy outrebounded the Crimson, 35-25. Vanderbilt (25-10) is making a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, but in a dramatically different fashion coming off its first SEC tourney title since 1951. Vandy garnered a five-seed as an at-large team in last year's tournament, but was sent packing by Richmond in the second round. This is the Commodores' 13th appearance in the Big Dance with their record now standing at 10-13 following Thursday's win. The program has gotten as far as the Elite Eight on one occasion in 1965 and has reached the Sweet 16 four times, the last in 2007.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Badgers and Commodores on the hardwood.
The Badgers' formula for success has hardly wavered over the years under Ryan's guidance, with defense at the forefront of every gameplan. It's no surprise then that UW's defense was not only the best in the Big Ten but tops in the nation among 338 teams, stifling the opposition's attack to the tune of 52.8 points per game. Wisconsin is also among the top-10 teams in the country in field-goal percentage defense at 38.3 percent. Incredibly, the Big Ten features four of the top-16 teams in the country in scoring margin with the Badgers slotting in fourth among their league counterparts at plus-11.4. Wisconsin's offense is a bit of a question mark in ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring (64.1 ppg) and field-goal percentage (42.5 percent). Taylor is the Badgers' top performer at 14.7 ppg while standing sixth in the Big Ten with 4.1 assists per game. Taylor often struggled to find his shot during the year, though, and stands with just a 40.5-percent accuracy from the floor. His 57 three-pointers top the roster and land at a 36.3-percent accuracy. Evans leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 per game and posts 11.1 ppg, while Berggren gives UW a trio of double-digit scoring options at 10.3 ppg and adds 4.9 boards. Helping to add depth down the line are Gasser (7.8 ppg) and Ben Brust (7.1 ppg), who stands second to Taylor with 52 threes on 37.7 percent shooting. The Badgers own the fourth-most three-pointers in the Big Ten with 261 as Berggren (41) and Gasser (41) contribute to that end. UW does a decent job of handling the glass with a plus-2.6 rebounding margin (33.9-31.2) and sports the third-best free-throw percentage in the Big Ten at 74.6 percent.
The Commodores may have pulled off a surprise win in the SEC championship, but the numbers suggest the squad should have been there all along. Vanderbilt has the SEC's top two scorers in Jenkins and Taylor. The veteran duo are as impressive as any in the country, with Jenkins topping out at 20.1 points per game and Taylor adding a cool 16.3 ppg. Not to be outdone, Ezeli checks in with 9.9 ppg and leads the team in field-goal percentage (53.2 percent). Jenkins and Taylor are much more than just scorers, though, with both ranking among the league leaders in field-goal percentage and three-point shooting. In fact, Jenkins leads the nation in three-pointers with 132 on 44.6 percent shooting while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor overall. Taylor is the complete package, dropping 65 three-pointers on a 43.0-percent accuracy with an overall shooting percentage of 49.8 percent and 5.7 rebounds per game. Ezeli also pulls down 5.7 boards while senior Lance Goulbourne paces the club with 6.8 rpg and chips in 8.7 ppg. Meanwhile, Tinsley ranks fifth in the SEC with 4.2 assists per contest, nets 8.9 ppg and has 42 threes on 41.2 percent shooting. The parts equal up to an offense that ranks third in the SEC with 73.1 ppg behind only SEC stalwarts Kentucky and Florida. Vandy stands in the same position in field-goal percentage at 46.1 percent while leading the SEC with a 39.1 shooting percentage from beyond the arc -- standing inside the top-20 nationally. The Commodores manage to hold down a decent plus-1.4 margin on the glass (34.5-33.1) while the defense often does enough in yielding 65.1 ppg and a 41.9 shooting percentage.
This matchup will be a true test for both teams with drastically different approaches. The up-tempo offense of the Commodores will be up against the best defense out there, but Vandy's veteran leadership figures to give it the edge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vanderbilt 69, Wisconsin 66
03/17 10:34:29 ET