While teams around the country fretted over Selection Sunday, seeding and making the field, not a whisper was made about the boys from Madison, Wisconsin. Maybe it was the certainty of making the field of 68 or the disappointing Big Ten Tournament loss to Nebraska, but the Badgers remained completely out of the spotlight.
After 32 games, the Badgers finished at 20-12, with 11 top-100 wins. Wisconsin had three road wins against NCAA Tournament teams, including bubble surprise Syracuse that crept into the field. The committee didn't really seem to care about their six losses below the RPI top-100, instead rewarding the Badgers for their success instead.
The biggest issue now facing Wisconsin is whether they can actually make some damage now that they're in the NCAA Tournament. For weeks, they were the darlings of the entire country, winning 11 of their final 13 regular season games, and the hope in Madison is that the Nebraska game is simply a minor setback.
Wisconsin's first game is the 7-10 matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers, a team that finished 20-11 overall and 10-10 total in the ACC. The Panthers are on a bit of a slide, losing four of their final six. They have quality wins over Notre Dame and Duke, but the rest of the resume is pretty lackluster considering their top-100 wins include Syracuse three times, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
For the Badgers, this appears to be a game on paper they should absolutely win. Pittsburgh has talent, but Wisconsin has been playing much better down the stretch than the Panthers. If they can beat Pitt, the rest of the region is quite intriguing. Xavier would be the likely next opponent, and the Musketeers have had a banner year.
They have six guys who average at least nine points per game, and they are an extremely strong rebounding team. The only common opponent is Michigan, who Xavier manhandled in Ann Arbor while the Badgers took care of the Wolverines in Madison. This would be a thrilling Round of 32 matchup, but Xavier is one of the few teams who has the size to matchup with Wisconsin.
To make the second weekend of this tournament, they'll need to play well against Pittsburgh and close to their absolute best against Xavier. Essentially, if a game like Nebraska happens against, the Badgers won't have a very long tournament.
Looking at that Nebraska game in more depth exposes where Wisconsin can run into trouble: awful volume shooting from their stars. While Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown were reasonably productive, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined to shoot 5-27, and 1-12 on 3s. They only lost by 12, which goes to show that the Badgers can battle even if they're not shooting well, they can still hang around.
I was also surprised to see Greg Gard not dip into his bench more, especially as he had done such a phenomenal job of implementing his bench players into a more regular role than Bo Ryan did. Every starter played at least 34 minutes, and only Jordan Hill played double-digit minutes off the bench. Expect that to change against Pittsburgh.
Overall, the Badgers should be pleased with a seven seed. They're not in the same region as Michigan State or Oklahoma, as I think Xavier is the third best two seed ahead of Villanova. They lost to Seton Hall last week, which should give Wisconsin a decent shot to beat them if that's the round of 32 matchup.