Wisconsin Badgers vs. James Madison Dukes Pick & Prediction MARCH 22nd 2024

NEW YORK — Wisconsin played in the final game before the NCAA Tournament field was revealed and won’t take the court again until late Friday night.

But James Madison will have been waiting much longer, in more ways than one.

Fifth-seeded Wisconsin and 12th-seeded James Madison will begin NCAA Tournament play when they close out a quadruple-header at Barclays Center in a South Region first-round game.

Wisconsin (22-13) received an at-large bid after losing to Illinois, 93-87, in the Big Ten championship game Sunday afternoon. James Madison (31-3) earned the Sun Belt Conference’s automatic bid by cruising past Arkansas State, 91-71, in the conference championship game on March 11.

Wisconsin squandered a 10-point second-half lead Sunday and the run to the final — preceded by three wins in as many days, including a 76-75 overtime victory over Purdue — provided a much-needed boost of confidence for the Badgers, who ended the regular season by losing eight of their final 11 games.

“It hurts because this is one we wanted, obviously, and (the Big Ten championship) was one of our goals,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said Sunday. “But as I told them in the locker room, now we’ve put ourselves in position to (play) more basketball. We’ll take the things we learned through this week, which were many, and way more positives than negatives.”

Wisconsin, which missed the NCAA Tournament last season for just the second time since 1998, allowed fewer than 70 points in regulation in each of its first three Big Ten tourney games after allowing at least 70 points in nine of the last 11 regular season games.

“You want to be playing your best basketball in March, and we are,” Gard said.

Few teams in the field enter the tournament playing better than James Madison, whose 31 wins are matched only by No. 1 UConn and whose 13-game winning streak is the longest in the nation. Yet it’s only the second-longest winning streak of the year for the Dukes, who climbed into the AP Top 25 by winning their first 14 games.

But as a member of a league that’s received an at-large bid just twice this century, the Dukes understood they’d probably be relegated to the NIT if they didn’t win the Sun Belt tournament.

“There was no way we were going to let this game get away,” JMU coach Mark Byington said after the Dukes shot 62.5 percent against Arkansas. “Absolutely no way possible.”

The trip to the NCAA Tournament is the sixth for James Madison and its first since 2013, when the Dukes were a 16th seed after earning the then-Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic bid.

“Now we know our path,” Byington said, “Wisconsin is a tremendous basketball team — one of the best-coached teams. They beat Purdue (Saturday), so our hands are full.”

AJ Storr leads Wisconsin with 16.9 points per game. Steven Crowl is averaging 11.2 points per game and leads the Badgers with 7.1 rebounds per game. Tyler Wahl contributes 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while Chucky Hepburn leads the way with 3.9 assists per game.

Terrence Edwards leads JMU with 17.4 points and 3.5 assists per game. T.J. Bickerstaff is averaging 13.4 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds while Noah Freidel posts 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

–Jerry Beach, Field Level Media

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