Wisconsin vs. Florida: Experienced Vets Against New Kids On The Block

    Wisconsin has made deep NCAA Tournament runs before, while Florida is figuring it out as it goes. That experience could be the difference in Friday night's Sweet 16 matchup.

    March 24, 2017

    Wisconsin has made deep NCAA Tournament runs before, while Florida is figuring it out as it goes. That experience could be the difference in Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup.

    Kasey Hill is the lone remaining Florida participant from the last time the Gators faced Wisconsin. It was Nov. 12, 2013, and the Badgers held the then-freshman Hill to 2-for-11 shooting in a 59-53 victory.

    The Gators would go on to win 35 of their next 36 games before falling to eventual champion UConn in the Final Four. Wisconsin also would make it to Dallas, where it lost to Kentucky on the other side of the bracket.

    Fast-forward to Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup at Madison Square Garden. Hill is the only Gator with NCAA Tournament experience prior to this year, while the remaining Badgers from that last meeting – Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown – have since played in a national championship game and competed in two Sweet 16s.

    Yes, there’s a vast difference in experience between the current versions of No. 4 seed Florida and eighth-seeded Wisconsin, but how much of a difference could it possibly make? The Gators, after all, are supremely talented with Hill, NBA prospect Devin Robinson, KeVaughn Allen and Canyon Berry. Probably more talented than the Badgers’ core of Koenig, Hayes, Brown and redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ.

    Florida Gators head coach Mike White, guard Kasey Hill and forward Devin Robinson. (Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

    “We’re looking at it as a first-time thing, of course,” said Florida coach Mike White, who was an assistant coach in the SEC at Ole Miss the last time the Gators played in the NCAA Tournament. “I don’t know how much of a factor (experience will be). I’ve got to think it’s a little bit of a factor. I’ve got to think that (the Badgers) having made runs like this, (they) feel confident.

    “Not saying that my guys feel unconfident. But for us, we’re not sitting here complaining that we don’t have a bunch of experience at all.”

    Wisconsin coach Greg Gard took his squad to the Sweet 16 as a No. 7 seed last year after taking over mid-season for Bo Ryan, who abruptly resigned. The Badgers have been both favored and overlooked during their recent NCAA Tournament runs and are coming off a thrilling victory over defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova to get to MSG.

    “You get to this point in time in the season and really you can throw a lot of that out, because they have been in big games, we have been in big games,” Gard said. “They have obviously been in two tournament games to get to this point, so I think sometimes there’s more made of that experience than necessarily applies. (We) have been in a lot of those environments, as has Florida.”

    Hayes believes Wisconsin having played in close games deep into the NCAA Tournament could benefit the Badgers if Friday’s contest comes down to the wire. But he cautioned that wouldn’t be the only deciding factor.

    Koenig and Hayes were the catalysts late against Villanova, with Koenig draining big shots down the stretch despite having four fouls and Hayes hitting a reverse layup in the final seconds to put Wisconsin ahead for good.

    “At the end of the day, it’s about whichever players on the team step up and make those plays,” Hayes said. “We just want to make sure that we’re the ones that make those plays, and hopefully that experience allows us to make them a little bit better.”

    Meanwhile, Florida has coasted through its first two NCAA Tournament games. Robinson scored 24 points in 15-point win over East Tennessee State and added 14 points as the Gators suffocated Virginia’s offense in their 65-39 second-round victory.

    Those victories help give credence to Hill’s assertion that this year’s team is better than the 2014 Final Four squad. The easy wins also don’t mean that the Gators are any less prepared than the battle-tested Badgers.

    “They have more experience than we do as far as NCAA play,” big man Kevarrius Hayes said. “But I feel like we’re all competitive. We’re still going to come out here and play as hard.”

    MORE: Florida vs. Wisconsin Prediction Roundtable – What’s Going To Happen


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