David Stluka / UW Athletics
Vitto Brown, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter (from left) all wind up their college careers with this tourney.
By the time you read this, the Big Dance could already be over for the Wisconsin Badgers. But let’s pretend the UW — the No. 8 seed in the East bracket — hasn’t tipped off its first-round game of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., against No 9. Virginia Tech on March 16.
It’s difficult to imagine the tournament selection committee having a bigger chip on its shoulder against Wisconsin. Granted, this is the Badgers’ 19th straight tournament appearance. But this also is a team that went to the Final Four two of the past three seasons, compiled a 25-9 record to finish second in the Big Ten and was runner-up in the conference tournament.
Should UW beat VT, the Badgers likely will face defending national champion and overall No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round on March 18. For the first time in years, I’m not planning my personal schedule around the tournament’s second weekend.
Of the Big Ten’s seven representatives in the tournament, four have higher seeds than the Badgers, including teams that UW beat twice during the regular season. The most notable is Minnesota, a No. 5 seed in the South that opens against No. 12 Middle Tennessee in Milwaukee on Thursday.
No wonder USA Today included Wisconsin in its list of “criminally underseeded” teams.
At least the Wisconsin-Virginia Tech matchup is an intriguing one. The 22-10 Hokies are coached by Buzz Williams, a familiar name to longtime college basketball fans in this state. From 2008 to 2014, Williams was head coach at Marquette — a UW rival for decades.
Greg Gard, now in his first full season as head coach at Wisconsin, chose his words carefully when asked about UW’s tournament placement. “I don’t know exactly the logic or reasoning behind that, so for me to try and throw out an opinion probably wouldn’t [be smart],” he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
As for the players, their actions spoke louder than words when the matchup was announced. A CBS Sports camera captured the team’s subdued reaction of polite (or, in some cases, no) applause in a Verizon Center locker room shortly after the Badgers fell to Michigan, 71-56, in the Big Ten title game in Washington, D.C.
Marquette is the other Wisconsin representative in the NCAA Tournament and will play South Carolina in Greenville, S.C. (how convenient), on March 17. Should the Badgers and the Golden Eagles survive their brackets, both teams would meet in the Elite Eight. But that won’t happen.