Wisconsin advanced to its fourth straight Sweet 16 by toppling No. 1 Villanova, and the only thing shocking about the victory is that the Badgers earned it as a No. 8 seed.
No way Wisconsin beats Arizona in the Elite Eight back-to-back years to reach the Final Four, right?
How – seriously, how – are the Badgers possibly going to defeat undefeated Kentucky to play in the national championship game?
Does anyone really think Wisconsin can get past No. 2 seed Xavier in the second round?
The Badgers might make it close, but no one really believes they’re actually going to beat defending national champion Villanova, do they?
Wisconsin heard the doubters, stared them back in the face and proved them all wrong – again and again. And after Saturday’s 65-62 win against No. 1 overall seed Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, there’s really only one question left unanswered:
What was the committee thinking when it handed the Badgers a No. 8 seed?
They finished second in the Big Ten, made it to the conference tournament championship game and were 21-3 on Feb. 9. They beat Minnesota twice, yet watched as the Golden Gophers received a No. 5 seed and promptly got bounced in the first round by Middle Tennessee.
And now Wisconsin, slighted and overlooked, is off to its fourth straight Sweet 16. The Badgers are heading to Madison Square Garden, not Villanova. Just like Arizona didn’t go to the Final Four either of those years, and how Kentucky didn’t complete an undefeated season, and like Xavier wasn’t moving on last year.
They all ran into an unappreciated Wisconsin team.
“All of those games we’ve been the underdog,” said senior Nigel Hayes, who scored 19 points and drained a reverse layup in the final minute that put Wisconsin ahead for good. “You have all types of your ranking systems, statistics, analytics guys. The thing is with all those algorithms, they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire. They can’t put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that’s the things that we have. The things that we’ve grown with.”
That’s why the Badgers didn’t fold when Ethan Happ could only play six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. They didn’t collapse when Bronson Koenig picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. They persevered, probably more than most No. 8 seeds would facing the defending national champions.
“Having been in this long enough, having been a 1 (seed), having been a 2, having been a 12 – you just got to go play,” coach Greg Gard said. “There’s so much parity, and teams are so good when you get to this time of year, you just have to lace them up and not worry about that. That’s the approach we’ve taken.
“I told these guys I don’t care where we’re seeded. We have to win six games. Let’s start with these two this weekend.”
Mission accomplished. Even though few thought they’d complete it.