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Wisconsin Basketball NIT Round 2 Preview: Liberty Flames



Wisconsin basketball

Wisconsin basketball advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament with an 81-62 victory over the Bradley Braves. Led by a career-high 36 points from junior forward Steven Crowl, the Badgers washed some of the nauseating taste out of their mouth from an ugly loss to Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The victory gave Wisconsin the opportunity to play the Liberty Flames on Sunday. Liberty, regular season co-champions of the ASUN Conference, fell just short of making the NCAA Tournament. Kennesaw State defeated the Flames by a score of 67-66 in the ASUN Tournament final.

Wisconsin can find a lot of itself in Liberty. The Flames run a slow-tempo offense, defend hard, prevent teams from securing offensive rebounds, shoot the three well, and have an older roster with lots of experience. Although this year’s Wisconsin team does not exactly fit that mold, it is reminiscent of the best versions of the Badgers.

Those similarities come from Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay’s ties to Dick and Tony Bennett. During an off-season trip to Green Bay, where McKay’s brother, Orlando, had just been drafted by the Packers, Ritchie met Dick Bennett. The two spoke about Dick’s teams at UW-Green Bay and soon after began a friendship with Tony. 17 years later, Ritchie joined Tony Bennett’s staff at Virginia.

Wisconsin Basketball Keys to the Game

What Liberty has that Wisconsin does not is one of the nation’s best guards: Darius McGhee. The AP All-American Honorable Mention is used on more possessions for his team than nearly anyone in the country, according to KenPom. With that usage comes incredible efficiency. Despite being undersized (the senior measures in at just five-foot-nine-inches and 180 pounds), McGhee’s 22.6 points per game are the fourth-most nationally. His 4.5 three-pointers per game are second only to the nation’s leading scorer Antoine Davis.

What Wisconsin has that Liberty does not is size. Because Liberty has the second-shortest roster in the country, Crowl could be a matchup nightmare for the Flames. With his 36-point outburst against Bradley, Crowl surpassed Connor Essegnian and Chucky Hepburn to become the Badgers’ leading scorer.

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BadgerNotes' resident college basketball sicko, Kedrick Stumbris covers Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball and women's hockey teams unlike anyone else. He received his B.A. with economics and political science majors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 and has had his work published on Bleacher Report and Verbal Commits.