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Women’s NCAA tournament first round preview: Wisconsin vs. Robert Morris

Can the Colonials grab an historic upset against the Badgers?

University of Wisconsin

Who: SB Nation No. 1 Wisconsin (31-2-4 overall, 22-2-4 WCHA) vs. No. 8 Robert Morris (24-4-6 overall, 15-3-2 CHA)

When: Saturday, March 11, 2017 (2:00 CT)

Where: Madison, WI (LaBahn Arena)

How to Watch: Wisconsin Channel Livestream

The Skinny

No. 1 Wisconsin has sat atop the national rankings the entire year. The Badgers boast wins against fellow tournament teams Clarkson (twice), Cornell (twice), Minnesota-Duluth (three times), and Minnesota. The WCHA champions ran through the conference tournament, racking up 19 goals in the process, and have not lost a game since December.

The Badgers have the country’s best offense, averaging over four goals per game, and have three players - Annie Pankowski, Sarah Nurse, and Emily Clark - in the top twenty nationally in points scored. When Wisconsin rolls, it rolls - it has beaten Minnesota-Duluth 8-0, St. Cloud State 9-0, Minnesota 8-2 and has put up several other wins of four or more goals.

Defensively, Wisconsin gives up just 0.86 goals per game (the next closest team, Quinnipiac, averages 1.38 goals allowed). The Badgers are backstopped by the nation’s top goaltender, Ann-Renée Desbiens, who is having yet another record breaking year. Wisconsin leads the nation in killing off penalties (92.0%).

Robert Morris started the year on a fantastic hot streak, powered by their top line of Amber Rennie, Jaycee Gebhard, and Brittany Howard before swooning a bit mid-season. The Colonials regained their form at the end of the year, however, knocking off Syracuse 2-0 last week to claim the CHA crown.

Robert Morris averages 3.12 goals per game and both Howard and Gebhard are in the top 12 in points scored. Gebhard leads the country in power play goals and Howard is right behind her in second place.

The Colonials allow less than two goals per game and senior goaltender Jessica Dodds (.935 SV%, 1.75 GAA), the First Team All-CHA netminder, has been strong all year. The Colonials kill off penalties at a 90.8% clip, good enough for a tie for third in the country.

Wisconsin Players to Watch

#30 - Ann-Renée Desbiens, G

Desbiens is a generational talent. She started the year as the NCAA record-holder in season goals against average, save percentage, shutouts and added the career shutout record this year. The Patty Kaz Top-3 finalist is 27-1-4 this year, with a .962 save percentage and 0.71 goals against average, which is a full half a goal less than the next closest qualifying player. Simply outstanding.

#19 - Annie Pankowski, F

A Patty Kaz Top-10 finalist the past two seasons, the junior forward is sixth in the country in points scored, tallying 24 goals and 28 assists in 33 games. Tied for second in the country in goals scored with teammate Sarah Nurse, Pankowski and the high octane Wisconsin offense will look to light the lamp early and often.

Robert Morris Players to Watch

#3 - Brittany Howard, F

The CHA’s leading point scorer and Player of the Year award winner, Howard averages 1.47 points per game. Tied for second in the country in power play goals (just one behind teammate Gebhard), Howard has tallied 11 points in her past eight games.

#17 - Jaycee Gebhard, F

Twelfth in the country in points scored, the freshman forward has, along with Howard, given the Colonials a potent one-two scoring punch. The CHA’s Rookie of the Year, Gebhard is on a nine game points streak in which she’s put up 13 points.

The Pick

As well as they’ve played this year, it would be an historic upset for the Colonials to knock off the Badgers. Wisconsin has only lost at home once this season, and Badgers fans know how to make the place rock. Robert Morris played second-seeded Clarkson tough earlier in the year, tying the Golden Knights 3-3, but the Badgers will be the toughest team Robert Morris has seen all year. Wisconsin looks to have the inside track for the national title and will make short work of the Colonials 5-1.

Pick Record for the Season: 10-7-4