Mega-Preview of Buzzketball's First Round Matchup Versus Wisconsin

The Buzzketball Crew tells you all you need to know about the Hokies' late night date with the Badgers.

[Michael Shroyer]

The Virginia Tech Hokies will be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Take a deep breath.

Let that sink in for a second.

It has been a decade since the Hokies last heard their named called on Selection Sunday. No one could have predicted the backwards slide that would follow Tech's 2007 second round loss to 4th-seeded Southern Illinois. (For those of you too young to remember, yes, the Salukis used to be a darn good basketball program). In the years that followed, the Hokies began finding themselves on the wrong side of the bubble and eventually out of the conversation altogether.

Years in the ACC basement eventually gave way to Virginia Tech's Luke Skywalker; a positive-minded, raspy-voiced, perpetually-perspiring head coach that rebuilt the program's culture from the ground up. Suddenly, there was hope. When Buzz Williams was hired, fans told themselves Year 3 would be the first reasonable opportunity to dream of an NCAA Tournament berth. Not even the most rational Tech fan could have predicted how stress-free Sunday's selection show would end up being.

Matched up against the 8th-seeded Wisconsin Badgers, the #9 Hokies have good reason to be mildly frustrated with where they landed. Many of the bracket experts hobbyists had Tech pegged for a 7- or 8-seed, yet the Hokies find themselves matched up with a former Top-10 team and a second round matchup with #1 overall seed (and defending National Champion) Villanova on the horizon.

So what can the Hokies expect from the Badgers? Well, it depends on how much stock you want to put in the psychological aspects of the game.

Wisconsin began the season 21-3 and ranked as high as 7th in the country, with losses to Creighton, Carolina and Purdue (all highly seeded tournament teams). They then went on to lose 5 of 7 games before making a mini run to the B1G Tournament final.

The Badgers have a legitimate beef with their seed. They were ranked 11 spots behind a Minnesota team that they swept and finished ahead of in the regular season standings. Five B1G teams were seeded ahead of the Badgers, despite the fact that Wisconsin finished second in the regular season standings behind only Purdue.

So why the 8-seed? It is possible that the selection committee doesn't think Wisconsin is as dangerous as their mid-season record indicated. After all, they left a 21-3 Wisconsin team out of the first ever Top 16 seed list. Wisconsin's late-season slide began against Northwestern the following evening.

Maybe they heavily weighted the Badgers poor momentum heading into the tournament. It could also have something to do with the fact that Wisconsin didn't beat anyone of note outside of their own conference. Their best win before Christmas was a 17-point home victory over NIT team Syracuse.

If you watched the selection show, you saw a short clip of a team that was clearly displeased with where they ended up. Ranked #7 two months ago, they're now tasked with preparing for a similarly underseeded Tech team chomping at the bit to play on the big stage.

The Hokies aren't concerned about a possible second round date with Villanova. But by the looks of it, the Badgers surely are. And that makes Thursday night's first round date with Virginia Tech all the more precarious.

Preparing for the Badgers

After legendary head whistle Bo Ryan abruptly stepped down 12 games into last season, longtime deputy Greg Gard took over and eventually coached his way out from under the "interim" tag.

One of the main reasons why Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez turned to Gard was to provide continuity. Ryan's Hoosiers-esque approach to basketball blended well with the Wisconsin culture, and Gard was very much a disciple of the Ryan brand. Bo didn't rely on highly-rated recruits or roll out traditionally-sized starting lineups. Rather, he molded players to fit into his disciplined, unglamorous style of play. Sound familiar?

Under Gard, the Badgers continue to play their usual brand of fundamental basketball. Gard continues to rely on the swing-offense that Ryan made famous. Coaches Clipboard has a fantastic breakdown of the offensive system and how it approaches shot creation:

The Swing offense is a 4-out patterned offense that has continuity. All five players are interchangeable, and spacing, screening, cutting and good passing are paramount. All five players learn to post up inside.

The offense is deliberate, often with multiple passes and places value on each possession with high percentage inside shots, or free-throws. Unlike some of the recent, newer offenses that utilize the dribble-drive as it's main attack weapon, the Swing offense is truly a "team-offense" that places a premium on good passing, screening and cutting.

Strengths: So what do the Badgers do well and who should Hokies fans be worrying about ahead of Thursday night's matchup?

Experience: Gard's team is led by an experienced group of seniors in Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown. The trio has been to two Final Fours, including a National Championship Game loss to Duke two years ago. Koenig (14.1) and Hayes (13.5) rank first and third, respectively, in points per game, and two of the three seniors rank in the Top 3 of virtually every major statistical category.

Looking past that group, this is a program making their 19th consecutive trip to the Big Dance. Unlike Virginia Tech, NCAA Tournaments are in the program's DNA, and the bright lights shouldn't faze the Badgers.

All-Everything Ethan Happ: The casual college hoops fan that tunes in each March will recognize the Badgers' senior leaders. But fans should get to know Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ. Happ is yet another potential matchup nightmare for the Hokies: A highly-skilled post player that features an array of moves, above-average handles for his size, and a lightning quick first step. Happ finished the regular season as the only player in America to lead his team in points (13.9), rebounds (9) steals (2), and assists (2.9) per game, earning First Team All-Big Ten and Big Ten defensive team honors.

Happ's midrange game leaves something to be desired, but he has a Zach LeDay-esque ability to take defenders off the dribble from the perimeter (but faster, obviously). To make matters worse for the Hokies, he has developed as a passer out of the low post over the course of the season, beating double- and triple-teams with his back to the basket similar to Wake Forest's John Collins.

Given Virginia Tech's lack of post players, containing Happ will be only half the battle. His size/speed combination could lead to a lot of cheap fouls down low, and — as we learned during the Hokies' ACC Tournament game against Florida State — Tech cannot afford to play extended stretches without LeDay.

Defense. Defense. Defense: The Badgers play a disciplined half-court defense that finished the season ninth nationally in points allowed per game (61.4). They don't give up a lot of fouls, rebound the ball decently on both ends of the floor, and hold opposing offenses to 41% shooting (also ninth best in the country). They enter the tournament ranked 8th in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 91.3 points per 100 possessions.

Weaknesses: Here's the irony of all of this: Unlike past Wisconsin teams, even the Badgers' strengths are prone to fatal breakdowns. Let's take another spin through the three talking points outlined above.

Experience: Given the level of experience on the roster, this year's Wisconsin team has struggled to match the standards set by their predecessors. Unlike past Badger teams, this year's squad is not terribly efficient from the floor. They shoot 45% from the field (#130 nationally) and 35% from distance (#151). Their 71.9 points per game (#204) were both a product of their average shooting efficiency and their methodical half-court set (#333 in KenPom's Adjusted Tempo). And where Bo Ryan's teams excelled from the charity stripe, Wisconsin has shot an uncharacteristic 64% from the line (#336) this season under Greg Gard. Not exactly the types of traits you would expect from a seasoned squad from Madison.

All-Everything Ethan Happ: As Happ has taken college basketball by storm, teams have tried to adapt to his varied skillset. Northwestern successfully neutralized Happ using a vicious double team in the Wildcats' February 12th win at the Kohl Center. Happ was held to just 9 points and 4 fouls in 26 minutes. But as fellow B1G teams tried to emulate Northwestern's strategy, Happ began breaking down defenses by passing out of the trap.

The Hokies have faced a number of talented big men this season, but their struggles have often occurred at the hands of mountains like Kennedy Meeks and Michael Ojo. Post players like Happ match up surprisingly well with Zach LeDay and his famous scowl. What LeDay lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in both tenacity and a knack for getting under the skin of his foes. Given how well LeDay played against John Collins — arguably a more talented player than Happ — in consecutive meetings, Hokies fans should feel good about Tech's chances of containing Happ.

One quick note: During a fateful six-game stretch in late February that saw the Badgers go 1-5, Happ either fouled out or finished with 4 fouls in each of the six contests. On the season, Wisconsin is 7-6 in games where Happ picks up four or more fouls. Don't be surprised if you see the Hokies (and especially Zach LeDay) take the ball right at Happ from the opening tip.

Defense. Defense. Defense: Here's where the Hokies could create some issues for the Badgers. Wisconsin is one of the worst defensive teams against the three this season. They have allowed opposing teams to shoot 37.7% from behind the arc (#311), and 8 of their last 10 opponents exceeded their season averages from distance.

By comparison, the Hokies — who we have panned for their poor three-point defense all season — are only allowing teams to shoot 36% from three (#247). And the Hokies led the ACC and finished 13th nationally in three-point shooting, hitting on 40.3% of their attempts from behind the arc. If you've watched five minutes of Buzzketball this season, you know what that means: Ty Outlaw has been watching film of Wisconsin all week with his legs crossed.

Staff Predictions

Joey Coogan: Let me start by saying Wisconsin got screwed. The Selection Committee appeared to botch a few seedings this year — Wichita State landing a ten seemed especially egregious — but perhaps no team feels more disrespected than the Badgers. Just 30 days ago, Greg Gard's senior-laden squad stood at 21-3 and ranked seventh in the country, seemingly destined for another top-4 seed and yet another deep run in March. Flash-forward a month, and suffice to say the Badgers likely weren't expecting to be staring down a second-round matchup with Josh Hart and Villanova.

With that being said, I don't hate this matchup for the Hokies. Wisconsin's good, and they know how to win in March, but they're not a team that scares you. Sure, it's a program that's been to two Final Fours in the last three years, and yes, a handful of those same guys will lace it up Thursday night in Buffalo, but they don't scare you. And that's important for an undersized and short-benched Virginia Tech team.

Wisconsin won't run Tech out of the gym. They're too methodical, too stubborn; in short, they're too much like Virginia. But make no mistake, they've got some players. Ethan Happ is as refined a low-post scorer as the Hokies have seen all year, and Nigel Hayes is an enigma (and a glaring mismatch for Tech when Happ is on the floor) that could explode for 30 without notice. Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter are your classic Wisconsin guards, two steady knock-down shooters built for the swing offense (Read: They're white).

I think whoever controls the tempo wins this game. Wisconsin will try to slow the pace and corral the Hokies in transition, turning it into a half-court matchup that sticks to the Badgers' tried-and-true winning formula. Justin Robinson and Seth Allen will be the engine that keeps Tech moving — if they can consistently beat Koenig and Showalter off the dribble, it'll be a long night for the Badgers. I like the Hokies to knock down eight or nine threes and keep it close, but Wisconsin's ultimately too good — especially in March — to bow out before what promises to be an intriguing matchup with Villanova.

Prediction: Wisconsin 69 - Virginia Tech 65

Brian Marcolini: Let's take a look at my recent Virginia Tech basketball predictions:

At the beginning of the season, I said they'd take a step back and finish around .500. I was wrong.

After Tech beat UVA, I predicted a loss to Pittsburgh on the road. I was wrong.

I predicted a blowout loss at Louisville. I was wrong (about the blowout part).

I also guessed an opening round loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament. Again, wrong.

So with my now-noted failures as a prognosticator, take this with a grain of salt: I think the Hokies win.

During the CBS Selection Show, they often cut away to different schools' reactions when they get seeded. Greg Gumbel had to pause as he unveiled the 8/9 line in the East, because the network happened to have the live scenes for both the Badgers and the Hokies.

When he read, "and the eight seed, Wisconsin," they cut to a group of guys who looked like they'd been punched in the nuts. And rightfully so. The Badgers have been in the Top-25 all year, went to the final of the Big Ten tournament, and have the pedigree to make a deep run. Yet they found themselves matched up against another Power Five team before a potential matchup against the defending national champions.

Not a good draw, and everyone in the room knew it.

Then they cut to the scene at Cassell. A Hokie team who was also underseeded looked ecstatic. Zach LeDay lept up in joy, just because Tech's name was called. LeDay and company don't care who they play, which bracket they're in, or what line they're on.

For Wisconsin, the 8/9 matchup in Buffalo is a disappointment. For the Hokies? It's a dream. And that could be the difference. Yes, the Badgers have had tournament success before, but we've seen underseeded programs with a tradition fall early. Last year, Arizona (a six) and West Virginia (a three) both deserved better seeds, then no-showed in the first round.

If Tech can hit their threes, they'll keep it close. And if they can keep it close, I trust Buzz Williams coming down the stretch.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 73 - Wisconsin 71

Pierson Booher: I've said it all season, but the Hokies' biggest strength is also their greatest weakness. Despite a short bench, a vertically-challenged lineup and Chris Clarke in street clothes, their lights-out shooting touch from 3-point range carried them down the stretch.

When the shots are falling, the Hokies are a scary team. Justin Robinson and Seth Allen command a lineup that features four deadly shooters at a given time, and there isn't a guy hotter from behind the arc than Ty Outlaw.

Living and dying by the three-pointer has allowed less talented teams to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, but it has also led to early exits when the shots aren't falling. When Tech's legs fell out from under them against the Seminoles last week, the three-pointers disappeared along with them.

Wisconsin presents an interesting matchup for this Hokies team. Sure, they're probably dealing with lingering frustration over where they ended up in the bracket. But for all of Wisky's successes this season, they have proven to be a deeply flawed team. They won't shoot or run the Hokies out of the gym. While their rotation features three players 6'-8" or taller, they don't pose a terrifying match-up for a Hokies team that finished above .500 in the most athletic and talented conference in America.

I think the Hokies come out firing on Thursday night and look to immediately put the Badgers on their heels. If Zach LeDay can play composed against Ethan Happ and the perimeter jumpers (or set shots from Mr. Hill) are falling, the Hokies should cruise. Given Wisconsin's experience in March, I think this game comes down to the wire before Tech closes it out at the charity stripe.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 77 - Wisconsin 71

Comments

Soooo nervous, its gonna be a long work day. Great write up Pierson.

I really don't know what's gonna happen tonight but all I know is that there's a lot of people who like Tech in football but UNC (or whoever) in basketball. I know people who have been football season ticket holders for years and have never stepped foot inside Cassell. For those of us who've stayed loyal and suffered through Greenberg's dwindling years and eventual laughingly embarrassing firing, and then the dark times of the Johnson era, this is catharsis. I could not believe it when I saw that Buzz was gonna be our coach. He wasn't even on my radar because I never thought we could land a coach like that. But here we are, dancing.

Win or lose tonight I'm gonna have a drink in my hand with my Hokie wife at my side and a smile on my face. I'll live and die with every possession and I won't be upset with the result. I won't be upset because I know the kids will play hard. I know Buzz and the assistants will coach hard. And I know the future is bright.

Lets fucking go.

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

I went to almost every game in the JJ era. Those of us that stuck around through some tough times earned this. I'll say the same thing I was told before starting college, "Enjoy every fucking minute."

Rip his freaking head off!

You're in Vegas right now. How/Why are you on TKP?

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson
@HaydenDubya

I was in school for our last bid and it dawned on me last night that I have probably watched 200+ VT games between then and now without a single one of them being a NCAA tournament game. Embrace the moment, I sure as heck hope it doesn't take as many years between appearances next time!

... and I'm not really nervous at all. I really like our spot. We have an opportunity to be the talk of the tourney which could do wonders for our basketball identity. I have faith in Buzz that the guys will be ready to play and I am hoping the officials let them play as well. Go Hokies!

Here's to hoping the Hokies are back to the tourney in about 35 games.

Great write up. Excellent read. Admittedly, as primarily a football and wrestling fan, I have not followed Hokie basketball much over the years until Buzz came onboard but I did watch twice as many games this year as in previous years. I can honestly say I am very excited for this team playing tonight as well as the future under Buzz. I will be gathering with several Hokie fans and rooting hardcore for the good guys. I know I'm getting ahead of myself but I sure would love to knock LOLUVA out of this years tourney!

LETS GO......

"Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth."

HOKIES!

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

Hill, Outlaw, and Bibbs all have big games but none bigger than LeDay who has been waiting for this day his entire career. He lives up to his dream and goes big.

Happ plays like a guy who was a 6'4" no-shoot wing until his senior year in HS then surprisingly grew 6" more. (he redshirted, so that may actually be pretty accurate) Now, he's got a handle like a wing and he's figured out how to use his size, but he still can't shoot (he's a 50% FT shooter). And his size gets him in trouble on the defensive side as much as it helps him, he's often in foul trouble. He's not as good as Collins, more like Lammers.

Koenig and Showalter are good shooters, but not great. For comparison, their career numbers are in line with Rob and Hill, neither have a history like Bibbs or Outlaw (short history). That's the difference in this VT team: our average shooters are the good shooters on other teams. Most teams, like Wisky, have two outside shooters that are Rob/Hill/Allen good, not many have even one shooter as good as Bibbs or Outlaw. And the reason we have five really good shooters is because we work, work, work and work to get good shots.

When I read that Hayes could drop 30, I questioned it. I was surprised to see he does have 7 games over 25 in his career, none this year (season high: 22). Of note, in each of those 7 games over 25, he had at least 10 FT attempts. Also of note, he was a 74% FT shooter coming into the year and is hitting 58% this year.

I would expect Wisky comes out like a house on fire to prove a point about their seeding. And that we wear them down midway through the 2nd half and catch them at the end by 1.

Hayes is an enigma. He looks horrendous at times, but he's really, really skilled.

How do you think Hayes compares to Chris Clarke? Besides being 2" taller.

Both small forwards at the next level, but different players. Hayes is a better overall scorer, can shoot, and a decent isolation guy which plays in the NBA. Clarke's more versatile, a better passer and probably a better athlete. I think Clarke plays harder on a more consistent basis.

I wouldn't draft Hayes, but he'll get picked up by someone (probably the Wizards with my luck).

If LeDay abuses Happ in the paint the same way he handled John Collins then I feel pretty good about our chances.

I look forward to an evening of yelling at my TV, and another one on Saturday.

The Orange and Maroon you see, that's fighting on to victory.

I just want to see LeDay go full rage mode again.

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

There are certain games when Allen and LeDay look extremely angry-focused, and it is during those games that we typically see the best out of this group.

I hope these two seniors are like that this weekend!

Is it football season yet?

Can you imagine the day when VT basketball starts the year and we're playing the season to determine how high of a seed we can earn and not just making the tournament? Man Hokie basketball is going to fun and huge when that happens. Thanks to Buzz, I think it's coming...

Just found out they play at 9:40 PM....why so late???

Gotta get up at 5 for work...fuck it, guess I'll be tired.

I'm in the same boat. Just gonna be draggin' ass tomorrow...no two ways about it

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

9:40 if we're lucky

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

yeah, it's really just 20-30 minutes after the Nova game ends. Could be looking at a 10PM tip if MSM manages to show some fight

Edit: If I start drinking now, I'm gonna need a powernap before the game.

Question: time and channel the game will be on?

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

time: 21:40
Channel..dunno

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

CBS

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

9:40 (or really 30 minutes after the Nova game is over) on CBS.

9pm tip times this year:

VT: 6
Wiscy: 0

Just sayin.....

Side note, CBS This Morning showed Obama's bracket.

He had a certain feisty 9 seed going on to the 2nd round (and UVA losing in round 2)

He had a certain feisty 9 seed going on to the 2nd round (and UVA losing in round 2)

They are losing in about 4 hours, not in the 2nd round

Don't let this comment take away from the fact that Arkansas blew a 24 point 2nd half lead in the Belk Bowl.
Don't let the Belk Bowl take away from the fact that Matt Ryan blew a 25 point 2nd half lead in the Super Bowl.

Tim Kaine has the Hokies winning it all in his bracket, beating the Hoos in the Sweet 16 and Kansas in the National Title game.

Head CBS college basketball analyst Gary Parrish has us beating Wisconsin as well, but has the Hoos upsetting Nova before bowing out to Duke in the Elite Eight.

In Sam Rogers we trust.

Non-Staff Prediction
Me:

Hokies Win

Hokies win because I picked them in my bracket to win. We're going to lose against 'Nova though...sorry.

"Sure, I've been called a xenophobe, but the truth is, I'm not. I honestly just feel that America is the best country and the other countries aren't as good. That used to be called patriotism." Kenny Powers

even during that winning streak this badgers team didnt impress me. theyve been severely disappointing in a weak big 10. last year i had a much better vibe from the team going into the tournament. im actually feeling pretty good about a vt win tonight

Taylor, looking desperately throws it deep..HAS A MAN OPEN DANNY COALE WITH A CATCH ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE FIVE!!!!....hes still open

So with my now-noted failures as a prognosticator, take this with a grain of salt: I think the Hokies win.

THAT'S NOT AT ALL WHAT I THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO PREDICT BRIAN. Why would you do this to us?...

That team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I mean I've seen teams suck before, but that was the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.

To be fair, all of his missed predictions were losses where we won (except L'ville).

Neat behind the scenes video of the trip to Buffalo.

He's no good to me dead.

This is for those of us who grew up with tech getting smashed in the Big East era and having the girls bball team be the talk of the town. Growing up here men's bball was never a huge deal it was always about football. You could literally just walk into casselll and pick a seat because there was never any fans there. It it amazing how far we have come as a school and athletic department. Buzz Williams has done an amazing job making our men's team relevant again. Let's Win the whole dang thing baby!!

There are wolves and there are sheep, I am the sheep dog

I for one wouldn't mind seeing both basketball teams become dominant

21st century QBs Undefeated vs UVA:
MV7, MV5, LT3, Jerod Evans, Michael Brewer, Tyrod Taylor, Sean Glennon, and Grant Noel. That's right, UVA. You couldn't beat Grant Noel.

Womens team will be alot better next season since the transfers Coach Brooks brought in will be eligible to play. We got man handled down low this season, that shouldnt happen next year.

So I'm at the barber shop waiting to get a haircut and they have the local news on (Northern VA). They have a segment on the NCAA tournament titled "UVA and Maryland fans glued to their screens for the tournament". No mention of Tech whatsoever during the segment. Fuckers.

No surprise there, I regularly chastise 106.7 the Fan mouthpieces on Twitter for skipping any mention of Tech. It irritates me that they are the Home of the Hokies for the DMV and we are usually nothing but an afterthought. They are also the home of Georgetown so when the Hoyas get pub it doesnt bug me as much. Biggest issue there is how many of the on air hosts have ties to Maryland. I think its six out of nine or something along those lines.

I think Maryland has a big journalism program, and a lot of the D.C. area TV stations are actually based out of Maryland, so there's a somewhat understandable bias going on. It just sucks that VT can't get any press in an area where a significant chunk of our alumni come from and/or live.