Whether or not Wisconsin overachieved as a team is a more difficult question to answer than you'd think at first glance. After witnessing their run to the Sweet 16 as a seven seed, the easy answer is "yes".
At the end of the day, NCAA Tournament success is all fans will really care about. After all, it's the playoff that decides the national champion, it's by far the biggest event in college basketball and maybe all of sports, and it's the lasting impression of a team that the nation walks away with.
If you told Badger fans on January 12th that their season would be ending with an agonizing defeat in the Sweet 16, I'm sure every single one of them would sign up for that scenario. On that day, they lost 70-65 at Northwestern to fall to 1-4 in Big Ten Conference play and 9-9 overall. Their interim head coach Greg Gard had been the leading man for less than a month and he had inherited a team that had already lost to Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette in the Kohl Center. The thought of the Badgers finishing in the top four of league play for the 15th consecutive season was laughable.
But the Badgers did. They tied for third in the Big Ten, actually, and they did lose a Sweet 16 game in gut-wrenching fashion. They were this close to playing in the Elite Eight.
If all you knew about this Wisconsin team was what you read in those two paragraphs, then you'd absolutely call this group unequivocal overachievers. But if you look at preseason expectations back in November, the Badgers were selected by the Big Ten Network contributors to finish fifth in the conference and a brilliant group of writers to finish sixth. With a four-way tie for third place, Wisconsin entered the Big Ten Tournament as a six seed. Score one for the good guys. Our SB Nation friends projected them as a five seed in the Big Dance and ESPN's Bracketology had them as a six. Once again, the Badgers entered as a seven.
You could make the argument that the expectations were too high for this team, though. The national runner-up team from last year lost three players that have been on NBA rosters this season and two other senior guards that started a ton of games throughout their careers. The Badgers only returned two significant contributors. The preseason expectations seemed to be more of a respect to the program than anything. The biggest argument you could make for this team being successful before the season was "Well, it's Wisconsin."
Ultimately, this team did overachieve. If you looked at the roster in a vacuum back in the preseason and withdrew the program's recent run of success in the past couple of decades, you probably wouldn't label it a top-three Big Ten team. Throw in the fact that their was a head coaching change mid-season and you certainly wouldn't expect much.
This Badger team wasn't as bad as it showed in the first two months of the season, but I also don't think they were wildly underachieving. Looking back, it's a lot of what you'd expect from a team that lost so many key parts and was trying to fill those gaps with players that didn't have much experience or five stars in their recruiting profiles. Their growth over the last two and a half months was nothing short of amazing and yet not surprising at all because it's what you've come to expect from Wisconsin.
The truth is, the Badgers were overachievers before their run in the NCAA Tournament. Just being there - comfortably, I might add - was enough to earn that distinction already. The fact that they won two games was just icing on the cake. And, yes, the Sweet 16 loss to Notre Dame was especially cruel (hug a Badger fan if you hear them muttering "eight points in 19 seconds"), but if this year has taught the Wisconsin faithful anything, you can just pencil them into the bracket again next year - regardless of the circumstances.