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The Hokies have the toughest challenge of all 9 seeds against underseeded Wisconsin. [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]After seeing their name on the NCAA Tournament bracket for the first time since 2007, it's just about time for the Virginia Tech Hokies to actually play in their first NCAA Tournament game since then against a team that went to back-to-back Final Fours in 2014 and 2015 in the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Hokies may not have a single player with NCAA Tournament experience but they do have a coach in Buzz Williams
who led Marquette to the second week of the NCAA Tournament three times including one Elite 8 appearance. Meanwhile, former Bo Ryan assistant Greg Gard in his first full season at the helm looking to lead Wisconsin on a deep run with a team that has plenty of experience headlined by Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.
Many are already talking about this game as one of the top matchups of the first round especially with how there are easy arguments that both teams in this game should have been seeded better with Wisconsin seeming more like a 6 or 7 seed and the Hokies being more of a 7 or 8 seed.
Instead of them being seeded where they probably should have been, we get a fantastic matchup that pits Buzz Williams against Wisconsin again for the first time since he left Marquette and pits two talented teams with some very talented seniors and rising younger players.
With that said, let's go more in-depth with our breakdown of the Hokies' first NCAA Tournament game since 2007.
Key Matchup: Bronson Koenig vs. Seth Allen
Both Bronson Koenig and Seth Allen are not afraid of the bright lights and on this big stage, both of these players definitely have the talent to shine and put together two great performances that help make this game quite captivating. Both of these players know how to make game-winning shots as Allen has shown time and time again this season and as Koenig showed last year in the NCAA Tournament.
Both of these guys are starting to play their best basketball right now with Koenig averaging 17 points per game over the past 7 games while Allen has averaged 16.4 points per game in his past 7 games. Both of these guys can score in all sorts of way and have proven to be quality free-throw shooters with Koenig shooting almost 90% from the line while Seth Allen has proven reliable from the line in the closing minutes.
Both of these veterans will likely be against each other as two talented seniors looking to lead their teams on to the second round and a chance at upsetting the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats. It wouldn't be surprising to see both of these guys end up with 20+ points and both playing decisive roles in the closing minutes to determine who moves on and who heads home for good.
Seth Allen and Bronson Koenig are two players meant for big stages like this and this matchup should be spectacular to watch but if one of these two significantly outplays the other, it'll be a serious problem for the one who isn't doing so well especially if that's Wisconsin given VT's deeper backcourt.
Keys to the Game
1. Zach LeDay Must Stay Out Of Foul Trouble.
Wisconsin has plenty of size in this matchup while the Hokies have only Zach LeDay, making LeDay's ability to stay out of foul trouble against the talented big men that Wisconsin brings to the table in this game. VT has seen what can happen when LeDay gets in foul trouble as Florida State was able to pull away from the Hokies when LeDay had to go to the bench in the latter half of the second half with four fouls.
In this game, the Hokies will need 32-35 minutes from Zach LeDay with the senior forward staying out of foul trouble to have their best chance at taking down a Wisconsin frontcourt that has plenty of talent and guys that can rebound especially Ethan Happ. If LeDay does get in foul trouble and has to be taken out for a few minutes, it'll be very difficult for the Hokies to win especially with Wisconsin having guys like Happ and Nigel Hayes who can take advantage of that situation.
2. Push the tempo and attack the lane.
Wisconsin definitely has the size advantage this game, but the Hokies undoubtedly have the speed and athleticism advantage that they definitely need to take advantage of. Virginia Tech has guys like Seth Allen and Justin Robinson who have great quickness and are quite effective at getting to the rim to either get a layup, draw a foul, or kick it out to an open shooter.
One big positive for the Hokies is that they face a Wisconsin defense that ranks outside the top 300 in three-point shooting defense, making it advantageous to attack the rim and create room on the outside to kick the ball out. If the Hokies can push the tempo some, and use their speed and athletic advantages to consistently attack the rim and try to get some of Wisconsin's frontcourt into foul trouble,
For Virginia Tech:
Since Chris Clarke has gone down, Ty Outlaw has stepped his game up and become one of the best three-point shooters in America shooting 48.2% from beyond the arc. Since Clarke's injury, Outlaw has scored double-digit points in five of eight games while seeing his points per game average jump from a little over 3 to 6 points per game while averaging 12.3 points in those eight games.
Outlaw has the opportunity to have a big game against a Wisconsin team that has been poor at defending the three-point shot this year. If Outlaw gets going like he has against some very good opponents including Miami and Louisville, Wisconsin will be in some serious trouble from Outlaw who could make a big name for himself.
After Wisconsin's big three of Koenig, Happ, and Hayes; it's been Zak Showalter who has been playing well lately having five-straight games with double-digit points before having only 8 in Wisconsin's loss to Michigan in the Big 10 Tournament Final. However, Showalter is a senior who has been to the NCAA Tournament plenty of times and is one of those veteran players that could play a big role in pushing Wisconsin on to the second round.
Showalter has also been shooting the ball well from beyond the arc lately shooting at least 50% from three in five of his past six games with at least 2 made threes in five of those six games. Showalter also is a senior that likely will have a little extra motivation to push back what will be his final game of his collegiate basketball career and that almost always provides a boost.
This is undoubtedly one of the best matchups of the first round between two teams that were definitely underseeded and present a unique matchup of size and experience vs. speed and athleticism. Whoever is able to control the game more with their style of play and not adapt to their opponent should get a significant boost in this matchup.
Virginia Tech will need to shoot well from beyond the arc against a Wisconsin team that struggles defending the three-point line and won't use a more athletic, smaller lineup that could help create some extra space to get a couple more threes off.
However, Wisconsin has an extremely talented frontcourt led by Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes that will cause problems for the Hokies and increase the need for Zach LeDay to avoid foul trouble. The matchup in the post between Happ and LeDay will be interesting to watch as Happ has had some foul issues averaging 2.7 fouls per game, and you can bet that LeDay will look to be aggressive early and often in going after Happ and seeing if they can get him out of the game.
Wisconsin is definitely used to being on the big stage in March while the Hokies have a team full of March debuts, but has a proven winner in March at the helm in Buzz Williams. Despite Buzz's experience, Wisconsin definitely has the experience advantage of playing in the NCAA Tournament and making a push for the national title as they did in 2014 and 2015 with a roster that has some carry-over with guys like Koenig, Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter.
When you look at this game, you can expect that Wisconsin will have a big game in the post and on the glass while the Hokies definitely could have a big day from beyond the arc against a Wisconsin team that struggles defending the three-pointer. This game undoubtedly goes down as a toss-up and both teams will likely need someone outside of their core scorers to step up and for the Hokies, Ty Outlaw can definitely be that man.
One of the most competitive games of the first round will happen in Buffalo on the opening night between the Hokies and the Badgers in a game that will come down to the final moment. Wisconsin hasn't been tested as much as the Hokies and while Wisconsin started to struggle some down the stretch, the Hokies played some of their best basketball and with Zach LeDay and Seth Allen leading the charge, the Hokies will survive to pull off the minor upset in a game that will come down to the final seconds.
Pick: Virginia Tech 72, Wisconsin 70