NCAA Tournament Picks ATS: (7) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (2) Xavier Musketeers

Xavier is 4.5 point favorites over #7 seeded Wisconsin in NCAA tournament action Sunday night.
Xavier is 4.5 point favorites over #7 seeded Wisconsin in NCAA tournament action Sunday night.

7 WIS vs. 2 XAV
Time: 7:40 Central (TNT)
Spread: XAV -4.5
Total: 136.5

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The No. 2 seeded Xavier Musketeers finished the season with a No. 9 national ranking and a 27-5 record, and it knocked off No. 15 seeded Weber State to advance to the round of 32 against No. 7 seeded Wisconsin. While the Badgers are the defending champs, it is a team without most of its key cogs last season. Xavier is 4.5 point favorites in the game which will air at 7:40 Central time on TNT.

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Xavier made short work of Weber State in its tourney opener. The Musketeers held Weber State to just 23 points in the first half, and Weber State shot just 38.6 percent from the field (including just 4 of 21 from three-point range). Xavier placed four players in double-figures led by 6’10” senior James Farr, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds off the bench in 25 minutes of play.

This season Farr’s stats were much more humble as Xavier’s third-leading scorer: 11 points, eight rebounds and a block per game. But he came up big in the first game of this tournament and Xavier is a team that can count on guys stepping up. That is part of why it was so good this season.

The Musketeers are led by 6’6” sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett. He struggled somewhat in the opener with just 10 points and five rebounds, hitting 4 of 10 from the field. Bluitt had a big game against Marquette when he hit 9 of 14 from the floor and 5 of 8 from three, scoring 24 points in a 90-72 Xavier win on Mar. 10. He shoots just 42.8 percent from the field, but half of his field goal attempts are three-point shots, where he shoots a very solid 39.7 percent (5.9 attempts per game).

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Xavier is led by junior point guard Myles Davis who had a well-rounded game against Weber State with six points, six assists and eight rebounds. He shoots just 40.2 percent from the field but about two-thirds of his field goal attempts are triples. Davis averaged 11 points, 4.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game this season, but the 6’2” guard from Plainfield, New Jersey has averaged 5.4 assists per game over Xavier’s last five contests. He is capable of setting the table and playing under control, as he averaged less than two turnovers per game this season.

Wisconsin may not be the tournament favorite it was a year ago, but things change quickly in the NCAA. The Badgers knocked off No. 10 seeded Pittsburgh 47-43 in a defensive fest that was as ugly to watch as the low score indicates. At the half, Pitt led 22-16, but Wisconsin was able to get something going in the second half achieving a respectable 31 points.

Three Badgers starters reached double-figure scoring in the game, but Nigel Hayes was particularly bad in doing so, hitting just 3 of 17 from the field in a frustrating game that Badgers fans and players were just grateful turned into a victory.

It is going to take far better offense to get by Xavier, and though the Musketeers are just 4.5 point favorites, that seems to be giving Wisconsin a lot of credit. Six-foot-nine freshman forward Ethan Happ led Wisconsin in scoring in that win over Pitt, hitting 6 of 8 from the field en route to 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists. He was consistently a source of high efficiency offense this season, as a 53.4 percent field goal shooter who attempts just 8.5 shots per game while averaging 12.2 points per game on the season.

Hayes, meanwhile, led the Badgers this yea with 16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists per game. His field goal percentage was ugly though, making that 3 of 17 performance less of a surprise to those who followed Wisconsin this season. Hayes shot just 37 percent from the field and 29 percent from three as Wisconsin’s go-to player.

The 6’8” junior forward hit just 2 of 15 against Nebraska on Mar. 10 in a 70-58 Badgers loss. He did have a nice game against Purdue on Mar 6 as he shot 8 of 16 from the field and 11 of 13 from the line en route to 30 points and eight rebounds. But typically the Badgers thrive despite his inefficiency because the team can defend at a high level. With Bluitt and Hayes both struggling of late, this has the potential to be a lower scoring game, though it is doubtful it reaches the point of futility it did in the first half of the Wisconsin-Pitt matchup.

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