Wisconsin and Xavier battled in one of the more memorable games of the 2016 NCAA Tournament and the two schools face each other for the first time since that encounter when the Badgers host the No. 17 Musketeers on Thursday. Wisconsin rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit in the epic contest and stunned Xavier when Bronson Koenig drained the winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Badgers in the Sweet 16.
This meeting is part of the Gavitt Games, when teams from the Big East (Xavier) play teams from the Big Ten (Wisconsin). Both teams won their first two games of the season, with the Musketeers scoring 101 points in each while winning by an average of 39 points and the Badgers prevailing by a winning margin of 31.5 points. Xavier senior guard Trevon Bluiett is off to a strong start with averages of 25.5 points (on 17-of-26 shooting) and 7.0 rebounds while Wisconsin junior forward Ethan Happ is averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds. “Both teams will be far from a finished product, but it’s going to be a great environment,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack told reporters. “They have a younger team, but they’re going to play Wisconsin basketball. Ethan Happ is one of the best players in the country. It’s going to be a good test on Thursday.”
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1
ABOUT XAVIER (2-0): Sophomore forward Tyrique Jones is off to a strong start by averaging 15 points (on 11-of-15 shooting), 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks and he tallied a career-high 19 points in Monday’s 101-75 victory over Rider. The back-to-back 100-point outings are the first for the Musketeers since the 2009-10 campaign but Mack still found things that need to improve after his club committed eight first-half turnovers against Rider. “Like a lot of teams this early in the year, we just have to shore up some things we have to improve in,” Mack said. “We had more turnovers in the first half. I think that was more my coaching than our players’ decisions, although they can always make better ones.”
ABOUT WISCONSIN (2-0): Happ, who has 22 career double-doubles, is the lone returning starter on a team reloading on the fly but he is pleased with what he witnessed through the first two games in terms of unselfishness and potential. “I‘m a big fan of the way we’ve been playing,” Happ said. “Going into this season, there were a lot of people saying, ‘Who’s going to step up this year?’ et cetera. I‘m just very happy to say it’s a lot of different guys.” Junior 7-footer Andy Van Vliet is averaging 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, sophomore guard D‘Mitrik Trice is contributing 13.5 points and sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl is at 11.5 per game.
1. Wisconsin holds a 3-2 series lead with the teams splitting two NCAA Tournament meetings -- Xavier defeated the Badgers in the second round of the 2009 tourney.
2. The Musketeers have won nine of their past 11 games against Big Ten teams.
3. Badgers junior swingman Khalil Iverson scored a career-best 17 points in Sunday’s win over Yale.
PREDICTION: Xavier 75, Wisconsin 73