USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson breaks down how Wisconsin was able to take down the defending champions to pull off the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament so far.
USA TODAY Sports
MILWAUKEE — The selection committee got it wrong when it made Wisconsin a No. 8 seed.
Now defending champion Villanova is paying the price.
The Wildcats are out of the NCAA tournament in the second round thanks in part to Kris Jenkins’ continued shooting woes. Mostly, though, they’re headed for the couch because the selection committee’s errors forced them to face Wisconsin a round early, maybe two.
This is a veteran team, with Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig holdovers from the back-to-back Final Four teams. Its strength is the suffocating defense that’s a Wisconsin trademark. And Greg Gard probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a coach because he’s so low-key and still largely unknown outside the Big Ten.
Yet the committee has had blinders about Wisconsin since it released its “preview” bracket Feb. 11. Though Wisconsin was ranked fifth in the country at the time in the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll, the Badgers were nowhere to be found in the committee’s top 16 seeds.
It’s true Wisconsin lost five of its next six games, and didn’t look particularly good in doing so. But Koenig wasn’t at full strength for part of that stretch because of a leg injury — he missed the Feb. 16 loss at Michigan — and anyone who has watched the Badgers the last few days knows how vital he is.
Koenig made eight three-pointers to lead Wisconsin over Virginia Tech in the first round, then scored 17 on 7-of-11 shooting against Villanova.
Rather than put so much weight in Wisconsin’s slump, the committee should have given the Badgers more credit for their rebound. They snapped the losing streak against Minnesota, which had won eight in a row. (And got throttled as a No. 5 seed by Middle Tennessee State. But I digress.) They then reached the final of the Big Ten tournament.
Now, there’s been plenty of shade thrown at the Big Ten this year, some of it deserved. But the Big Ten did have the third-best RPI in the country, and only two out of the 14 teams were not in the mix for the NCAA tournament.
If you reach the final of that conference tournament, it ought to count for something.
The committee didn’t see it that way, seeding the Badgers behind Purdue, Minnesota, conference tournament winner Michigan and Maryland. Yes, Maryland, the one team Wisconsin beat during its slump.
There are other instances of the committee misseeding teams — hello, Middle Tennessee and Wichita State! — but Wisconsin is the most glaring.
Just ask Villanova.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
MARCH MADNESS HIGHLIGHTS