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No. 2 seed Wisconsin will host No. 3 seed Liberty in the second round of the 2023 NIT bracket on Sunday afternoon. The Flames advanced with a 62-57 win over Villanova in the opening round, covering the spread as 4-point favorites. Wisconsin took care of business with an 81-62 win against Bradley in its first-round matchup.
Flames rely on hot shooting, strong defenseLiberty was outstanding throughout the regular season, with five of its eight losses coming against teams in the NCAA Tournament field. The Flames raced out to a 10-1 record in Atlantic Sun play, taking control of first place in the standings. They never relented, finishing tied with Kennesaw State atop the conference standings with a 15-3 record. However, Kennesaw State picked up an 88-81 win in the head-to-head meeting on Feb. 16, earning crucial home-court advantage in the conference tournament. The Owls notched a 67-66 win over the Flames in a thrilling conference title game, earning their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
MOVIN’ ON 🔥#RiseWithUs | #NIT pic.twitter.com/K6I22vEfyD— Liberty Men's Basketball (@LibertyMBB_) March 15, 2023
The Flames quickly put that disappointment in the rearview mirror with a 62-57 win over Villanova at home on Tuesday, as Darius McGhee drilled five 3-pointers en route to a 26-point performance. Freshman forward Zach Cleveland had one of the biggest games of his career off the bench, scoring six points, grabbing a team-best 12 rebounds and dishing out five assists. Liberty has been a hot-shooting team throughout the season, ranked No. 13 nationally in effective field goal percentage (55.4). It is facing a Wisconsin defense that is No. 24 in adjusted efficiency. McGhee, the conference player of the year, leads Liberty with 22.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Senior forward Kyle Rode is also in double figures with 10.8 points and 3.5 assists.
Badgers cruise past Bradley in first roundWisconsin got off to an 11-2 start this season and had all the makings of an NCAA Tournament team. The Badgers proceeded to lose six of their next seven games, though, and they were never able to recover down the stretch. They have not won consecutive games since Jan. 3 when they beat Western Michigan and Minnesota in back-to-back games. Wisconsin had its NCAA Tournament hopes officially dashed when it was upset by Ohio State at the beginning of the Big Ten Tournament. Oddsmakers were not convinced that Wisconsin cared about the NIT, making the Badgers just 3-point favorites against Bradley in the opening round.
I swear the cameras always catch me lacking🤣 pic.twitter.com/MIaWlK3EJR— Connor Essegian (@CEssegian) March 15, 2023
The Badgers dominated the Braves on Tuesday, rolling to an 81-62 win behind a career-high 36 points from Steven Crowl. He shot 12 of 16 from the floor, 5 of 7 from 3-point range and knocked down all seven of his free throws. Wisconsin has relied on its defense all season, and it held Bradley to a 5 of 23 mark from 3-point range on Tuesday. The Badgers have been one of the worst major-conference shooting teams, ranked No. 275 in effective field goal percentage (48.6). They are also No. 340 on the offensive glass, but they have the lowest turnover rate in the country. That proved to be a big factor against Bradley, as they only turned the ball over three times. Liberty leads the nation in defensive rebounding and is No. 45 in adjusted efficiency.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Liberty relies too much on its offense for me to feel good about backing the Flames on the road in this game. They took advantage of their home game against Villanova, but the road aspect of this contest makes it much trickier, as they have only covered the spread once in their last seven road games. Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and it is not going to beat itself with unforced turnovers. The Badgers showed me that they are taking this event seriously when they blew out a solid Bradley team earlier this week. They have a big size advantage on Sunday, which should thwart Liberty’s defensive rebounding numbers. Wisconsin has won five straight games against Atlantic Sun teams.
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Full-Game Total Pick
These teams play completely different styles of basketball, and it has shown with their respective totals. Liberty has gone over in six of its last nine games, while Wisconsin has gone under in seven of its last eight home games. The Badgers have no interest in getting into a shootout with a Liberty team that wants to put up a ton of triples. Wisconsin is No. 349 in tempo, No. 1 in turnover rate and No. 275 in field goal percentage, so the Badgers have a plethora of lengthy, empty possessions. Both of these teams are in the top 50 in defensive efficiency, making the under the best bet on Sunday afternoon.