(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Montana: East Region
Wisconsin 24-9, 12-6 Big Ten (At large)
Montana 25-6, 15-1 Big Sky (Conference Tourney Champions)
Time: 2:10 p.m. Thursday
Location: The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
Winner will face: (5) Vanderbilt or (12) Harvard, Saturday
Wisconsin No. 14 AP; No. 13 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Montana No. No. 39 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Line: Wisconsin -8½ (O/U 110)
Players to Watch
Wisconsin: G Jordan Taylor, 6-1 Sr. (14.7 ppg, 4 apg, 3.7 rpg); F Ryan Evans, 6-6 Jr. (10.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.6 apg); C Jared Berggren, 6-10 Jr. (10.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 45.1% FG). As the focus of opposing defenses, Taylor was inconsistent during his season year, but he was solid at the end of the season. He scored in double-figures in the Badgers’ last five games, averaging nearly 14 points and three assists in that span.
Montana: G Will Cherry, 6-1 Jr. (16 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.4 apg); F Kareem Jamar, 6-5 So. (13.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.7 apg); F Derek Selvig, 7-0 Sr. (9.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3 apg). Selvig came up huge in the Big Sky championship game win over Weber State. He was 6-for-12 from the field with 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists as the Grizzlies took the title, 85-66.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
Wisconsin: No team plays better defense than Bo Ryan’s Badgers, who held opponents to under 38 percent from the floor (eighth-best in the country), 28.9 percent from the 3-point line (seventh nationally) and the nation’s-best 52.9 points per game. Taylor is a strong floor leader and when the Badgers are hitting 3-pointers, which they do fairly effectively, they’re nearly impossible to beat at their pace.
Montana: Montana has won 14 straight and 20 of its last 21. The Grizzlies have a pair of playmakers – Cherry and Jamar – who really make them go. Behind the duo, Montana play unselfish offense with five players who average at least 9.2 points. The Grizzlies average 13.8 assists per game. They also led the Big Sky with 7.1 steals per game, led by Cherry’s league-best 2.6. The Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year will draw the assignment on Taylor and that could make things difficult for an already-deficient Badger offense.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s offense has struggled much of the season. The Badgers shoot just 42.4 percent from the floor and scored just 63.9 points per game. They scored 65 points or fewer in half of their games. Depth is also an issue, with only six players averaging more than 12 minutes per game.
Montana: The Grizzlies aren’t very big and can be beaten on the boards by a bigger, strong Badger team. Their usual pace will play right into the hands of the defensive-minded Badgers. Montana has also struggled to slow 3-point shooters, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 40 percent from deep against them. The Grizzlies didn’t play a terribly tough pre-conference schedule and a loss to North Dakota and a 25-point beating by Oregon State should give Grizzly fans pause.
The Bottom Line: Wisconsin’s lack of offense will lead to the end of its season – eventually. Montana just isn’t good enough to be the team to do it.
The Pick: Wisconsin 65, Montana 56
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)