Who saw it coming?
A team that floated through its conference season, skated up and down the AP rankings and slapped with the dreaded No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament have defied all odds and reached the Sweet Sixteen.
The consistency of Wisconsin in March is often forgotten among the heavyweights like North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky. Let’s not forget that the Badgers have notched more tournament wins over the last four years than any other program.
Wisconsin is the kind of team that never seems to have the flashy lottery picks or dazzling highlight tapes. Rather, they are a unit that comes in, puts their head down and grinds for 40 minutes.
Oh, and they win too.
Not only were the Badgers given one of the scariest second round games of the tournament with the bracket’s top overall team in Villanova, but Greg Gard’s team was given a test in a quality ACC team in Virginia Tech.
But, nonetheless, in typical Wisconsin fashion, the Badgers gutted out a win in the opening round behind a gritty 28-point performance from senior guard Bronson Koenig. Wisconsin isn’t a team that overpowers its opponents—Virginia Tech was no different—but its core group of battle proven veterans are savvy and simply know how to close a game out in big moments.
OK, so they beat Virginia Tech, still not enough to prove the committee is “idiotic,” as described by Illinois State coach Dan Muller after his Redbirds were snubbed from the big dance. Right?
Well, the Badgers changed that on Saturday. The defending champions awaited, eager to take care of a struggling team in a down year for the Big Ten and waltz into the Sweet Sixteen.
Wisconsin rose to the occasion. Big-shot Bronson netted a flurry of clutch jumpers and Nigel Hayes sealed the deal with a flawless baseline drive and reverse layup to seal the tournament’s first major upset and another Sweet Sixteen berth for the red team.
Then, all at once, media outlets starting churning out content saying that Wisconsin just may be capable of extending its improbable run, maybe even make it to the Final Four for the third time in four years.
Oh, so now everyone believes in this team?
Give me a break.
But, to answer the implications. Yes, the Badgers can make it to the Final Four and, yes, maybe even win the title.
Koenig has been nothing short of incredible, but the resurgence of Hayes is proving to be the turning point for the Badger offense. Hayes is playing a style of ball right now that has been missing for most of the season, outmuscling forwards in the paint for easy layups or free throw attempts.
Wisconsin plays Florida Friday night—a team that the Badgers can surely win. Sure, Florida has the ability to play stifling defense, as illustrated Saturday when the Gators held Virginia to just 39 points.
But the Badgers have a plethora of weapons on offense and carry a tantalizing defensive presence themselves. If Wisconsin gets past Florida, that East region is up for grabs, seeing that that the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 programs are all eliminated.
Although Wisconsin succeeds time and time again in the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers are habitually overlooked by college hoops experts, bracket challenge participants and worst of all the committee.
I have Wisconsin in my Final Four.