The 3-seed Liberty Flames (27-8, 15-3 ASUN) takes on the 2-seed Wisconsin Badgers (18-14, 9-11 Big Ten) on Sunday from the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin in the 2nd round of the NIT.
“It’s no small thing to be playing in the third weekend of March,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “I think our guys will all appreciate the opportunity. The caliber and quality of opponent upgrades the challenge. We’re thankful that we get a chance to continue our season.”
Liberty defeated Villanova, 62-57, and Wisconsin knocked off Bradley, 81-62, on Tuesday night as both teams advanced to be a part of the final 16 teams left in the NIT. The Flames also played Bradley earlier this season, defeating the Braves, 55-44, on Nov. 23, 2022 as part of the Cancun Challenge. Liberty and Wisconsin have one other common opponent this season as both teams have played Northwestern. The Flames lost to Northwestern, 66-52, in a game also played in Cancun. The Badgers are 0-2 against Northwestern this season, losing the two conference games by a combined five points.
“They are really physical,” McKay said of the Badgers. “Coach Gard, I’ve known him for years, I have a ton of admiration for how they do it. They never beat themselves. This was an at-large candidate up until the last 10 days maybe of the season.”
Under eighth year head coach Greg Gard, the Badgers have advanced to five NCAA Tournaments during his tenure. It looked like Wisconsin was headed to the Big Dance once again midway through the season as they started 11-2 and 3-0 in conference play. They then dropped three straight and six out of seven as they limped down the stretch. The Badgers have not won back-to-back games since the turn of the calendar year.
“They are really good on the interior,” McKay said. “They play inside out. Crowl had 36 the other night against a really good Bradley team who is really good defensively, we know that first hand.”
7-footer Steven Crowl leads the way for Wisconsin, averaging 12.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this season. He had 36 points and 9 rebounds in the win over Bradley in the first round of the NIT as he shot 12 of 16 from the field, 5 of 7 from three, and made all 7 of his free throws.
“They have other guys in the post,” McKay said of Wisconsin’s roster. “Wahl is tough down there. Number 11, who is a transfer from Wofford, he’s a dog. Gilmore off the bench and Hepburn can post too, but they also surround them with really good shooting. They test your defense.”
Here’s everything you need to know for Sunday’s matchup:
How to Watch – Liberty Flames (27-8, 15-3) vs Wisconsin (18-14, 9-11 Big Ten)
- Date: Sunday, Mar. 19, 2023
- Start Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN2
- Online Streaming: Watch ESPN
- Radio (Lynchburg): LFSN Radio (107.5 FM)
Odds and Statistics
- KenPom currently gives Liberty a 43 percent chance to win the game with a predicted score of 66-64.
- ESPN’s Basketball Power Index currently gives Liberty a 43.1 percent chance to win the game.
- N/A. This will be the first ever meeting between the two programs.
G Chucky Hepburn, So., 6’2″ 205, 11.7 ppg, 2.9 apg
G Max Klesmit, Jr., 6’3″, 200, 8.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G Connor Essegian, Fr., 6’4″, 185, 12.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg
F Tyler Wahl, Sr., 6’9″, 225, 11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg
C Steven Crowl, Jr., 7’0″, 245, 12.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg
Stat Leaders (2022-23 Season)
- Points: Darius McGhee – 22.6 PPG
- Rebounds: Blake Preston – 5.2 RPG
- Assists: Colin Porter – 3.7 APG
- Points: Steven Crowl – 12.2 PPG
- Rebounds: Steven Crowl – 7.0 RPG
- Assists: Chucky Hepburn – 2.9 APG
Ritchie McKay Press Conference Pre-Wisconsin