A rematch of one of the best games during last year’s March Madness run pops up on the college basketball schedule on Thursday. It just depends which team you ask.
Wisconsin got the last laugh in a 66-63 thriller during the NCAA tournament last season, when Bronson Koenig nailed two clutch three-pointers to advance the Badgers.
Wisconsin will be the favorite on Thursday, when they prepare to host the 15th-ranked Xavier Musketeers. Xavier will undoubtedly be hungry for some revenge and probably won’t take too kindly to being seen as the underdog. Both teams enter the season perfect at 2-0, but neither have been tested after scoring easy wins over the likes of Morehead State, Rider, Yale and South Carolina State.
While last season’s thrilling showdown will hype this game up quite a bit, this will actually be just the sixth ever showdown between these two teams. Xavier won a second meeting in the NCAA tourney in 2009, while Wisconsin also won in 2000 and currently holds a narrow 3-2 edge in the series.
Ethan Happ (16 points, 11 rebounds per game) leads the Badgers inside as the team’s only returning starter from a year ago, while the Badgers continue through the young 2017-18 college basketball season unranked for the first time since 2010.
Xavier is paced by explosive scorer Trevon Bluiett, who was a scoring terror a year ago but has really exploded to start this season. He enters averaging over 25 points per game and is hitting from outside at a ridiculous 55.6% clip. Overall, the Musketeers have started the year off red-hot, as they enter this matchup with the usually defensive-minded Badgers as the nation’s 3rd most efficient offense.
Will the Badgers batten down the hatches and get a big home win, or will Xavier issue some payback en route to a 3-0 start?
Xavier Musketeers (+150) @ Wisconsin Badgers (-170) Total: 146
It’s important to note how big of a game this is. Xavier is already ranked and could add some meat to their early schedule with a nice road win. They also could obviously exact some revenge in the process.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, isn’t ranked and has a lot to prove with just Happ returning from last year’s starting five. Standing firm at home in the face of the 15th best team in the nation would go a long way in getting them back inside the Top 25, while the win would keep them perfect at 3-0.
That being said, I’m a little surprised the Badgers are favored in this one. They’re not ranked for a reason. Ethan Happ is the only guy we can really trust on this young team at the moment. He’s been great and is already looking better than last year, but he can get into foul trouble at times and is just one guy.
What happens if this game gets dicey; much like the meeting in the NCAA tourney last year? The Badgers had to erase a nearly 10-point hole and hit clutch shots to advance. This will be Wisconsin’s first big test and it’s fair to wonder if they’ll deliver on their first try.
Wisconsin is known for getting business done on their home floor. The Badgers went 16-2 at the Kohl Center last year, going 14-0 on their home court before finally dropping a tough Big 10 tilt against Northwestern. Needless to say, that has to be the main reason the oddsmakers are lightly backing them in this one.
Xavier is relentlessly a team with a lot of promise, but they routinely seem to fail to live up to the hype. Losing to the Badgers last year was one way they did that again last season, but they have a chance to make up for that early and potentially make a case that they’re a top 10 team early in the year.
When it comes down to it, I just don’t trust the Badgers yet. Wisconsin could slow this game down, dictate the pace and rely on their fan base. That might happen even in a loss, but I don’t love the value with a team we really know nothing about. Xavier has a stud scorer in Bluiett and to this point has shown to have a number of scorers that can step up behind him.
Xavier is set up to get some revenge and make a statement. I’d like them more if they weren’t in such a tough stadium to get wins in, but at +150, we need to take the value and run.