Wisconsin Basketball: The Badgers open the NIT against Bradley

MADISON, WISCONSIN - MARCH 02: Max Klesmit #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after hitting a three-point shot during the second half of the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Kohl Center on March 02, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MADISON, WISCONSIN - MARCH 02: Max Klesmit #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after hitting a three-point shot during the second half of the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Kohl Center on March 02, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

Once the realization sunk in that their NCAA dreams were dashed, Wisconsin basketball had a decision to make.

Will they accept or reject the invitation to the NIT?

While we may never know if this was a hotly-debated topic or not, the many faithful members of the Badger Nation are just happy to get one more chance to watch the boys in cardinal and white lace up. Their opponent is the Bradley Braves from the Missouri Valley Conference.

Some initial confusion surrounding Wisconsin basketball’s seed

When the NCAA initially released the NIT bracket, they had Wisconsin listed as a #3 seed. The confusion came as they used the round of 32 brackets from the NCAA tournament for their initial template.

However, in that form, the #2 seed is at the bottom of the bracket, whereas a 32-team field has the second seed’s matchup above the third seed’s game.

Amusingly, the Michigan Wolverines had their fortunes flip-flopped in the opposite way as the Badgers, going from a 2 to 3 seed.

Karma will get you, Hunter Dickinson.

A staple of the NIT

The Bradley Braves, located in Peoria, Illinois finished in first place in the MVC with a record of 25-9. Losing 77-51 in the finals of the MVC to Drake, Bradley was still hopeful to hear their name on Selection Sunday.

Unfortunately for Bradley, they will be making their 22nd appearance in the NIT, most of any team in this year’s 32-team tournament.

Wisconsin, who we know is a staple of that other tournament that’s going on, is making its first NIT appearance since the 1995-96 season. They won their opening-round game that year against Manhattan before losing in the second round to Illinois State, who plays in the MVC with Bradley.

Keys to Bradley

Bradley is led by Rienk Mast, a 6’9″ forward from the Netherlands. Their version of Tyler Wahl, Mast averages 13.8 points per game, 7.9 rebounds a contest, and 2.5 assists per game. A two-time All-MVC player, Mast is equally effective from long-range (35.9% from 3-point land) or short-range (56.8% inside the arc). However, the overwhelming majority of his shots are of the two-point variety.

Their only other player that averages double-digit in scoring is 6’9″ senior forward Malevy Leons, also from the Netherlands (not the same town as Mast though). Leons is averaging 11.3 PPG, 6.0 rebounds per game, and 1.2 assists per contest. Leon’s percentages are incredibly similar to Mast’s, hitting 36.6% of his threes and the exact same 56.8% inside the 3-point line.

A fugazi defense

I must apologize to my readers. Yesterday, when I was writing my initial report, I cited Bradley’s strong defense that only surrendered 62.2 PPG, 15th in the entire nation, as cause for concern.

Upon further investigation, the Braves played three opponents from Power 5 conferences: Auburn and Arkansas from the SEC and Utah State from the Mountain West Conference.

The average margin of defeat against all three opponents was 20.6 points per game. The lowest total that one of these opponents scored against them was 76, by Arkansas, which was still 2 points per game higher than the Razorback’s season average.

This is a perfect example of statistical deception. That lofty 15th in the nation in defensive scoring was amassed against the likes of Merrimack, Missouri State, Illinois-Chicago, and Murray State.

When they were faced with slightly stiffer competition, they didn’t quite measure up.

Vegas’s thoughts on Wisconsin basketball

For those of you who might be inclined to legally place a wager on tonight’s contest, Wisconsin is currently a 3-point favorite. The line originally opened at 3.5 but moved to 3 points late in the evening on Monday.

This line movement indicates one of two things: a ton of money is coming in on Bradley (unlikely, as NIT games are not heavily bet) or wagers from “sharps” (professional gamblers) are being placed on the Braves.

The total for the game has had a bit more movement. Opening at 128 points, it dropped down to 126.5 Monday afternoon before climbing back to the current total of 127.

Kenpom.com has the Badgers winning 66-62. If that score holds true, the bet should be placed on Wisconsin and the over.

If, and this is a big IF, Wisconsin comes out motivated, this has the makings of a decisive Badgers win. Quite simply, the Badgers are nowhere near the caliber of opponent that the Braves have feasted on all season long. Like a young thoroughbred who has dominated the lower stakes, the very few times they stepped up in class, they were soundly defeated.

There is a reason that a team with a record of 25-9 does NOT make the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid. Their strength of schedule ranked a respectable 162nd in the nation.

Wisconsin’s strength of schedule was 14th.

So, given all of this information, why such a low spread? The only logical explanation I can arrive at is the oddsmakers think that the public will think Wisconsin doesn’t really care about this.

A quick primer on oddsmakers and their lines. Spreads do not necessarily reflect the oddsmakers’ thoughts on the outcome of the game. They are designed to insure an equal amount of betting on either side. They strive to make their money on the vigorish, the tax that they place to make a wager.

For example, they might really believe that Wisconsin will win by 12 points. But if they set that as the spread and all the money came in on Drake and Wisconsin came out flat and squeaked by, the bookies would take a bath.

So what the oddsmakers think public perception is going to be plays a large role in their setting of the odds.

Call me a homer, but I think the youth of Wisconsin basketball will come out with something to prove. For the last half of the season, as they’ve struggled to find themselves, they have heard how they’re no good, their coach should be fired, etc. I think they will use that negativity as fuel and put together a monster performance.

Wisconsin should easily cover this spread and I actually see the total going over as well.

So sit back and enjoy, ladies and gentlemen. We are guaranteed to see our Badgers at least one more time this season. Let’s hope they make the most of it.

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