In the final minute, it was heartbreak.
When Wisconsin's Vitto Brown hit a clutch three-pointer with just 28 seconds remaining to put the Badgers up three, it looked as if Greg Gard's team might be able to escape with yet another close win. But then Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson drove to the other end and hit a layup to bring the Fighting Irish within one. On the ensuing inbounds play for the Badgers, Nigel Hayes had the ball stolen by Jackson for an easy layup, giving ND the one-point lead. Bronson Koenig then drove the length of the floor for a layup that was too strong, V.J. Beachem hit both of his free throws and with just seconds remaining, Koenig was pick-pocketed by none other than Jackson himself and Notre Dame escaped with victory.
As we begin to accept the end to yet another solid Wisconsin basketball season, here are three things that we learned from this Sweet 16 showdown.
1. Inbounds plays have been the story of the tournament
In case you haven't been watching the rest of the NCAA tournament (and have been living in a hole), we've seen multiple instances in which inbounding the basketball has become one of the most crucial turning points in the game. We saw Providence beat USC off an inbounds play, we saw Northern Iowa absolutely collapse when they couldn't inbound the ball vs. Texas A&M and we even saw Wisconsin use a set inbounds play to knock off Xavier on a buzzer-beater. However, in this game the inbounds play backfired. While Nigel Hayes was able to control the ball on the inbounds, he lost it trying to dribble through the double team and it led to an easy game-changing layup for the Fighting Irish. While this is one small play to pick out of the entire game (specifically the 17 points scored by ND in the final three minutes), this is a mistake that they could not have afforded to happen, it remains a big reason why Wisky lost this game.
2. Nigel Hayes was a non-factor for most of the tournment
The supposed best player on Wisconsin's roster was very ineffective for much of the NCAA tournament run and did not provide much assistance on his 11 point, 6 rebound performance in this game. While those numbers are not bad persay, they do pose an issue considering he is the leading scorer on this team. Hayes excelled last season with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker at the helm, but in his first postseason run at the man at the forefront, he was relatively quiet. Bronson Koenig, on the other hand, emerged as the go-to threat. It will be interesting to monitor who the lead will be next season.
3. This Wisconsin team was underrated
Ok, while many have begun to say this over the past week, it is true that the Badgers were truly one of the teams that flew under the radar this entire season. They struggled early, racking up terrible losses, including those against Western Illinois and Milwaukee. However, with Greg Gard at the helm, Wisconsin was able to completely turn their season around and make it as deep as any Big Ten team in the NCAA tournament. The Badgers fought the Irish hard for what would have been their third straight trip to the Elite Eight. While it ultimately did not pan out, we learned from this game and from this tournament overall that Bronson Koenig is a big time shot maker and that Wisconsin has a potential big star on their roster with Ethan Happ. Look out, America. If Hayes chooses to return for his senior year, the Badgers could be legitimate national title contenders next season. This team is young, talented and has plenty of experience moving forward.