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Wisconsin basketball, James Madison: March Madness preview

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team enters the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak to right what was a dreadful February.

But March Madness is full of bracket busters and fans hoping for a miracle, and the fifth-seeded Badgers (22-13) are set to play No. 12 James Madison (31-3) at 8:40 p.m. Friday. The Dukes won at Michigan State on the opening night of the season and beating another Big Ten team would be validation that Cinderella’s slipper fits the team with the fewest losses in the field.

Each team is exceptional on offense and the game may come down to who gets the last stop. And while the Badgers have a height advantage, James Madison coach Mark Byington made sure to point out his team has size with wingspans.

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The Dukes have been a popular upset pick from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to CBS’ Seth Davis and Clark Kellogg to Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde. But ESPN’s Matchup Predictor backed by analytics gives Wisconsin a 67.6% likelihood of winning, and ESPN Bet favors the Badgers by 5.5 points. Though James Madison opened as the shortest odds for a 12 seed to win outright.

At one point the Badgers were rated No. 6 in the country by AP voters. They had started 16-4 but a dreadful stretch in which they lost seven of nine games knocked them out of Big Ten title contention. But a resurgence leading up to and ending with a run to the Big Ten Tournament championship, perhaps, bumped them up to the fifth seed.

As the Badgers’ slide began on Feb. 1, the Dukes started a run of their own. James Madison enters Friday on a 13-game winning streak and as the Sun Belt champions. Its best win was on opening night of the regular season, and it hopes to top that with a NCAA Tournament win.

BadgerExtra men’s basketball beat writer Michael McCleary was joined by Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist David Teel to break down Friday’s game between Wisconsin and James Madison.

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