On Saturday, March 18, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 8 seed Wisconsin Badgers took down the No. 1 seed Villanova Wildcats. We are calling it an upset, but it is indeed madness – dare we call it, March Madness.
After the game, Badgers Forward and game-winning shot specialist Nigel Hayes said, “You have all types of your ranking systems, statistics, and analytics guys, but the thing is with all those algorithms, they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness and desire. You can’t put that into a formula that’ll give you a percent chance of winning and that’s the thing that we have.” This statement could not have been more true concerning the Badgers. Ranking systems, statistics, and analytics guys placed the Badgers at a No. 8 seed, but their heart amongst other things brought them face-to-face with the team that had both the ranking and the things underlying to justify it. The thing about the Badgers that everyone seems to have forgotten is: they have been on the receiving end of this stipulation before.
Wisconsin has not built their athletic reputation for nothing. With a new Coach and new Seniors filling into leadership roles left over from Bo Ryan and two athletes who made the first-round of the NBA Draft, the Badgers have everything they need to play their brand of basketball in a high-level tournament. The stipulation which confronts them every year is how far will they make it against higher ranked teams, but we have never been given a reason to believe that they will not make it far aside from the ranking. Being in the position to make it but only so far is a stipulation the Badgers are used to. The familiarity with the Badgers in this stipulation only makes their trips every year that much more exciting for the sports community. What makes this year even more exciting and different is that Wisconsin has beaten the team expected to not only go further than them, but the furthest. Saturday’s win has moved Wisconsin up the NCAA bracket and up our priorities list of bracket-making.
When the NCAA bracket was released, the Badgers vs Villanova matchup was an obvious outlier. Villanova was not only the No. 1 seed, but the defending champs. The Badgers went into this matchup with two obstacles ahead of clinching the beloved Sweet 16 spot. The game lived up to the unlikely hype with the upsetting ending: a game-winning shot. The game-winning shot was preceded by a nearly game-winning play: an assist from Nigel Hayes to Bronson Koenig for a three. The game-winner, which was a lay-up, happened with mere seconds left and the game was tied, so the game was clearly not a fluke. Tough lay-ups, smart ball movement, and threes are what the Badgers excelled in against their first-round competition, so the Badgers game was not a fluke. Nigel Hayes had 19 points total on the night and Bronson Koenig added 17 total, which is more proof that the Badgers fought. Once tip-off began, the matchup never had to come down to NBA-like predictions where we decide on a winner of a 7-game series based on regular-season observations between a No. 8 seed in an unlikely matchup against a No. 1 seed. It came down to one game between two teams with strong presence. The Badgers and Villanova came down to the mechanics of basketball, the thing of the NCAA.
Villanova walks away with their heads hanging, but at least it is hanging on their hardworking Seniors, one of which is the Big East Player of the Year, Josh Hart. Josh Hart played his last game of college on Saturday, March 18, in the second round of March Madness, but his team remains the reigning champions at least for another couple weeks. Finishing the season No. 1 overall is yet another accomplishment for Villanova to look back on. Villanova was the favorite amongst the favorites. It is unlikely that a team like this loses so early, but it is so unlikely that an early loss will not change their longevity. If you watched Saturday’s game, you probably watched Thursday’s game and Villanova all season. There is a bright side, as they say, and maybe it is Villanova doing something we all want to see: matching up against the Badgers again next year.
Continuing with the idea of moving on, watching the Badgers for the rest of the tournament is going to be an unbelievable experience. Watching them now will not only involve turning on your television, but becoming familiar with the Badgers’ plays, players, coaches and everything else when the television is off. Knocking off the No. 1 seed means that all eyes are on you. This energy is what the Badgers need to continue successfully in the tournament.
The ball is at least halfway in the court of the Badgers against their next opponents. While the Florida Gators sit 4 seeds above Wisconsin and also finished an impressive one in the same day to advance, it was not one of bragging rights and new-found energy. Unlike the matchup against Villanova, the records between Wisconsin and Florida are as close as they get. The Badgers should not approach this game with less intensity because they have advanced in a huge way, but one should expect to see the expectations shift for them, which will hurt the opponents even more.
I have come to the conclusion that the Wisconsin Badgers have created an upset that is sure to turn into madness – dare we call it, March Madness.