Anybody who thinks that the National Invitational Tournament doesn’t matter should take a look at the Wisconsin basketball players during the past two games. The Badgers have come out in each game during NIT with a fire and resolve that, quite frankly, was lacking during stretches of this season.
They are going to need all of that, and more, as they face their stiffest competition yet when they travel to Eugene, Oregon, and do battle with the University of Oregon Ducks on Tuesday, March 21st. Tipoff is 8 P.M. (CST).
Oregon’s dangerous but damaged weapons
Oregon finished 19-14 in the Pac-10 and lost to UCLA in the second round of their conference tournament. In the first round of the NIT, they destroyed a very good UC Irvine team 84-58. Their next contest saw them handle UCF 68-54.
They won the first two rounds without their top three scorers.
Seniors N’Faly Dante (13.4 PPG), Jermaine Couisnard (12.8 PPG), and Will Richardson (12.2 PPG) all missed the games against UC Irvine and UCF. Richardson is out for the season with a hip injury. The other two are both questionable for the game on Tuesday night.
Couisnard, a transfer from South Carolina, missed the first 15 games of the season with knee surgery. He suffered a partial separation during the loss to UCLA.
Dante, their dominating center, injured his ankle during the Ducks’ first game of the Pac-12 tourney. He played in Oregon’s next game, the loss to UCLA, but was clearly limited by the injury.
Oregon’s head coach, Dana Altman, says he’s hopeful to have Dante back for Tuesday’s game.
If Badgers fans have learned anything about ankle injuries, it’s that being 100% is a far cry from being able to play.
The injury situation is an interesting one. During the regular season, a healthy Oregon squad (minus Couisnard) lost by 13 points, at home, to UC Irvine. Perhaps revenge was the motivation, but whatever it was, Oregon’s “injured” team demolished the Anteaters the second time they saw them.
What Oregon still has, even with its second string, is long length and great athleticism. The “replacement” lineup goes 6’2″ guard, 6’6″ guard, 6’8″ forward, 6’9″ forward, and 7’0″ center.
Defensively, they are stout, only giving up an average of 66.4 points per game, 70th in the nation. They average 37.7 rebounds a game, good enough for 40th in the country. They are also adept at blocking shots, with an average of 4.8 blocks a game, 25th in the nation.
How does Wisconsin basketball get to Las Vegas?
First, the Badgers obviously will need to do a bit better from long-range. The completely healthy version of Oregon averaged allowing 21.9 attempts and 7.4 makes a game, which is 205th in the country. Contrary to what the announcer said (or some of the comments that I read after the Liberty victory), the 3-point weapon is usually a valuable weapon in the Wisconsin basketball arsenal.
If Steven Crowl can continue his Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky impersonations, that will go a long way to opening up the floor, which should allow lanes for Essegian and Hepburn to cut through.
It seems as though the Badgers have been rotating who has the big game. Going back three games, the leading scorers have been Wahl, Crowl, and Hepburn. Following that completely unscientific logic, I would say that Essegian finds his shooting touch again and goes off.
Even though they might be slightly weakened, as they’ve shown so far this NIT tourney, the Duck’s backups can play. They probably view this as their time to shine and plan on making the most of it.
Vegas (Caesars) lines and final thoughts
Oregon opened as a 5-point favorite and a total of 134. The spread has moved down to Oregon being a 4.5-point favorite, indicating that money (or influential bettors) are taking Wisconsin. The total hasn’t moved at Caesars.
This should be, for sure, Wisconsin’s toughest test so far in the NIT. Oregon was one of the very disappointed bubble teams on Selection Sunday and used that disappointment as inspiration in their first two games.
I actually think that these two teams are quite alike and both fan bases are disappointed that their respective teams aren’t playing in that other March tournament (no, not the CBI either). Oregon has some head-scratching losses this season. First, the was the aforementioned 13-point home loss to UC Irvine. They then lost 3 in a row, all to very good teams, including Michigan State. Then, a few days before Christmas, they suffered another weak home loss to Utah Valley.
While they suffered these bizarre losses to non-conference foes at home, conference play was a different story. They were 7-2 in conference home games. The Matthew Knight Arena seats 12,364 fans and can get quite raucous for the opposing team.
However, Oregon fans are also disappointed that their team didn’t make the Big Dance and paid attendance of 2,431 for the Irvine game and 3,019 for the UCF.
I absolutely love Wisconsin basketball plus the 4.5 points. I actually think the Badgers will be able to win against this depleted Oregon squad. The crowd should be a non-factor, their star players are going to either be out or be physically limited in their capabilities. I see this game in the 140-point realm for a total. Wisconsin 72, Oregon 68.