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Wisconsin hopes for more consistency in NIT vs. Bradley

Mar 8, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Connor Essegian (3) grabs a rebound against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After a series of close losses, inconsistent Wisconsin will be looking to bounce back against Bradley in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday night in Madison, Wis.

Third-seeded Wisconsin (17-14), which has not won consecutive games since early January, lost 65-57 to Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament.

Bradley (25-9) had won 12 straight before being denied an automatic NCAA Tournament bid with a 77-51 loss to Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game.

“I decided last week that if this was going to be the opportunity in front of us, we were going to do it,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I felt it was important not to take away an opportunity from our players. I did not address it with them prior to playing in the Big Ten tournament.”

The Badgers, missing out for just the second time in the last 24 NCAA Tournaments, last played in the NIT in 1996 when they lost to Illinois State, 77-62, in the second round.

After beating Minnesota 63-60 on Jan. 3 for their sixth straight victory, the Badgers were 11-2 and ranked No. 14. They went 6-12 the rest of the way.

Wisconsin had 18 games decided by five points or fewer, going 11-7 in those, and split a school-record six overtime games.

“We had plenty of opportunities to better our position in terms of the NCAA Tournament, and we were not able to do that,” Gard said.

The methodical Badgers average 64.9 points per game, allowing 63.8. Wisconsin is 86-12 under Gard when holding opponents to 60 or fewer points, including 12-2 this season.

Chucky Hepburn leads Wisconsin with 12.0 points per game, followed by freshman Connor Essegian at 11.9, with a team-high 65 3-pointers. Tyler Wahl averages 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds, with Steven Crowl adding 11.5 points and a team-high 6.9 boards per game.

Bradley earned an automatic bid to the NIT by winning the MVC regular-season title for the first time since 1995-96 and won 25 games for the first time since 1987-88.

Bradley is making its 22nd appearance in the NIT, but its first since 2007 when it lost to Mississippi State in the second round.

The Braves average 70.9 points per contest, giving up 62.2. Rienk Mast averages 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds, followed by Malevy Leons with 11.3 points and 6.0 boards.

Braves coach Brian Wardle is familiar with Wisconsin over the years. Wardle played at Marquette and then coached at Green Bay for five seasons before taking over at Bradley.

“I’m learning about them right now, have not watched them this season,” Wardle said, per the Peoria Journal Star. “I know the Wisconsin way, how they play. Very tough to beat at home, very disciplined, never foul, low-possession games.”

Wisconsin last played Bradley in 2011, winning 66-43, and leads the all-time series 3-2.

–Field Level Media

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