After the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team defeated the Oregon Ducks 61-58 in a gritty, hard-fought contest in Eugene and that awful excuse for a basketball court, the Badgers have found themselves in the bright lights of Sin City, playing in the NIT Final Four. They are just two wins away from a championship that many will chide or laugh at, but one that has historically proven to be a springboard into the following season. Here’s why Wisconsin will be the 2023 National Invitational Champion.
North Texas Isn’t That Mean At All
For the second consecutive game, the Wisconsin Badgers have been labeled as the underdog. While they may have warranted that status against a completely healthy Oregon team (their top 3 scorers were out due to an injury), the underdog moniker against UNT doesn’t make sense.
Looking quickly at the stats, it makes all the sense in the world. North Texas leads the nation in average points allowed, giving up an average of 55.7 points per game. In fact, they are in the top 10 in 8 different defensive categories such as field goals attempted and made, two and three-pointers both attempted and made, etc. They are also 4th in the nation in total opposition rebounds allowed.
However, upon looking deeper at these stats, they were accumulated against weak opponents. UNT played FIVE quad-1 games all season and only went 2-3. One of those wins, a 65-59 victory over Oklahoma State, was actually in the NIT. So, these impressive defensive statistics become less impressive against the likes of FIU, UTSA, and Alcorn State.
The other way that UNT has amassed such lofty defensive stats is because of their sloth-like pace on defense. They have the slowest adjusted tempo ranking and longest average possession length per Kenpom.com. So many of those statistics rankings came from teams simply having such a lower amount of possessions. This is an effective style of play, to be sure, but it reveals that UNT isn’t so much an impenetrable defense game as it is a snail-like pace of the game.
If there was ever a team whose style fit this type of game, it is the Wisconsin basketball team. Wisconsin’s own adjusted tempo on Kenpom is 342nd, only 21 places above UNT. UW’s average length of possession is 19.7 seconds.
This all means that these two teams play a very similar style of game. Part of the effectiveness of this offense is the disruption of the timing and flow of the opposition. But that won’t be an issue for Wisconsin. They play UNT’s style but against much tougher opposition.
I’m not saying it won’t be a close game because as every commentator points out in every game, Wisconsin has had an unbelievably high amount of games decided by 5 points or less. But I believe 100% that they will be playing in the NIT Championship.
Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Possible Opponents
Playing in the other semi-final game is Utah Valley and the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB). Utah Valley is in the WAC conference and UAB is in Conference USA, the same conference that UNT is a member of.
Utah Valley had a regular season record of 25-8. Their signature victory is easily the 77-72 win at Oregon (who was healthy at the time except for Cuisnard). They are a well-rounded team who plays a fairly quick tempo (their 42nd in adjusted tempo per Kenpom).
UAB’s regular season record was 25-9. They defeated Georgia in November and South Carolina a few weeks later. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the combined record of those two SEC squads was 26-37. They are a high-scoring squad, averaging 81.2 points per game, 10th in the nation in average scoring. They’re currently installed as a 2.5-point favorite over Utah Valley.
Whoever wins this game will likely be an underdog against Wisconsin and for good reason. Wisconsin’s body of work far surpasses any of these mid-majors.
While I know the Wisconsin Badgers rarely have “an easy win”, I see their path to winning the NIT as being relatively smooth.
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