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Can The Wisconsin Badgers Make The 2016 Final Four?

In a college basketball season filled with parity and a lack of dominant teams, we surprisingly ended up with a very familiar list of teams in the Sweet 16. As such, the seventh-seeded Badgers are one of the most surprising teams still standing.

At some sportsbooks, Greg Gard's team is considered the least likely remaining squad to win this year's title.
At some sportsbooks, Greg Gard's team is considered the least likely remaining squad to win this year's title.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers are perhaps an undervalued team in the betting markets as we head into the final two weekends of March Madness. Although Wisconsin was able to slay 2-seed Xavier on Sunday, a win over the Musketeers just doesn't create as much national buzz as one over a program like Michigan State or Villanova would have. I don't agree with this line of thinking, but brand names have and always will matter in how people think about college basketball. The other factor that has many questioning Wisconsin is the horrid offensive performance the Badgers generated in the ugly win over Pittsburgh, which probably is still fresh in the minds of many.

Despite this potential undervaluing of the Badgers, their objective chances of hoisting the 2016 national championship trophy remain quite low. Coming into the tournament, Ken Pomeroy estimated Wisconsin's title odds at 0.3%. After the two upset victories by Wisconsin, FiveThirtyEight now has the Badgers' title odds at one percent. It's important to remember that this takes into account Wisconsin's potential road ahead and isn't necessarily a declaration that UW is the worst team remaining in the field.

The Badgers are currently a one-point underdog to their Sweet 16 opponent, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This isn't a huge surprise, as Wisconsin was a small underdog to Pittsburgh and most indicators suggest the Irish are better than the Panthers. This game is probably best characterized as a coin flip. The overall resumes of the teams are similar, but the Badgers have been playing so well in the last two months and are clearly better than their 22-12 record. However, Notre Dame counters that with the advantage of having a veteran roster that was battle-tested in their run to the Elite Eight last season.

If Wisconsin does advance to the Elite Eight, Badger fans will be happy if their team's next opponent ends up being Indiana instead of North Carolina. This isn't to say that Indiana isn't a formidable opponent, but Wisconsin already defeated the Hoosiers at home and almost won at Assembly Hall (and that close loss at Indiana was before the Badgers started turning their season around). There is certainly reason to believe that the Badgers match up well with the Hoosiers. Wisconsin doesn't have one of its deeper rosters this season and having to match North Carolina's high octane style in the second game of the weekend seems like a recipe for Badger fatigue and disaster.

If Greg Gard's team does the unthinkable and wins the national title a year after the team with the loaded roster fell just short of that goal, it would truly be the most unlikely and unexpected championship run in the history of Wisconsin athletics. For now, anyone who bleeds Badger red should keep their expectations reasonable and hope for the Elite Eight or Final Four. The odds are not in their favor, but at this point it shouldn't be too surprising if Gard and his team of young but talented players keep pushing the envelope and asking the fans to dream even bigger.